Cheryl Pepsii Riley Sizzles At Isaac Hayes Birthday Bash

Veteran R&B singer tears up New York's Copacabana on 'I Can't Stand the Rain'; Nile Rodgers hosts charity event.

NEW YORK — It wasn't Memphis, Tenn., in the mid-'60s, but it was the next best thing.

Soul and R&B luminaries wished Isaac Hayes happy birthday in song Wednesday night at the Copacabana for "Memphis in Manhattan," the fourth edition of Hayes' annual birthday bashes that raise money for the soul legend's Isaac Hayes Foundation.

The night featured Memphis-themed performances by an array of musicians, including Chaka Khan, Howard Hewitt, Cheryl Pepsii Riley, Tito Nieves, Miles Jaye, Najee, Eddie Floyd, Rachelle Ferrell and Hayes himself.

The Bar-Kays, the former house band at Memphis' Stax Records, where Hayes first made his name, backed the singers and also performed.

Funk superstar Nile Rodgers took time off from recording a new Chic album to host.

Proceeds from the sales of tickets — which ranged from $75 to $250 — and a raffle went to the foundation "to make music education and instruments accessible to those who cannot afford it," Hayes said. "Because music is good for your mind."

"The situation, when you look at young people throughout the country today with illiteracy rates so high, is ridiculous," Hewitt said before his performance. "So it's something that's very important in this country."

The highlight of the evening was Riley's rendition of "I Can't Stand the Rain," written by Memphis songwriter Don Byrant and originally a hit for Ann Peebles. Riley, wearing a snug leopard-skin top and black pants, twirled, flayed and belted the song into a frenzy.

"I always knew the sister's music, but I didn't think she tore it up like that!" Rodgers said from the stage.

After the song, producer and performer Bowlegged Lou George stopped traffic in a hallway between dance floors while he snapped Riley's photograph.

George, best known as a member of the rap group Full Force, and Riley go back a ways; George produced Riley's 1988 hit "Thanks for My Child."

"She was the best!" George said.

"The Bar-Kays band is amazing," Riley said, crediting the musicians who backed her. "They made me sound good. I had a ball with them!"

Jaye, a former member of the Village People, also scored with a revivallike delivery of Sam and Dave's "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby." Najee came out in the middle of the song and coolly delivered a soprano sax solo while Jaye composed himself.

Also, Floyd sang "Knock on Wood" (RealAudio excerpt), Hewitt performed a rousing version of "Love and Happiness," the Bar-Kays upped the energy level with "Soul Finger" and "Freak Show," and Khan lent a little soul to "Son of a Preacher Man."

Ferrell sang a warm version of "Happy Birthday" to Hayes. Then the man once known as Black Moses brought his own band to perform a short set that included the "Theme From Shaft" (RealAudio excerpt) and "I Stand Accused."

Hayes, wearing a satin blue robe with gold trim and matching pants, waved his arms like a wizard of soul during the instrumental breakdown of "Shaft," as the standing-room-only crowd erupted.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, artist Leroy Nieman, Cissy Houston, Ashford and Simpson, actor Wesley Snipes, boxers Joe Frazier and Michael Spinks and boxing promoter Butch Lewis also were on hand to wish Hayes, who's a morning DJ on New York's 98.7 (KISS-FM), a happy 58th birthday.

Hayes fan Cindy England, 42, of New York enjoyed the audience almost as much as she did the performances.

"I'm having a great time rubbing elbows with the stars," English said. "I took a picture with Joe Frazier."