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Music at the Movies: A Timeline of Oscar History

The Academy Awards have always been a big deal to me, and the awards for musical score are especially important.  To celebrate the upcoming ceremony, I created a timeline of major events in film scoring at the Oscars.





One Night of Love

One Night of Love wins the first Academy Award of Merit for “Best Music (Scoring)” at the 7th Academy Awards. The statuette was presented to Louis Silvers, head of the Columbia Studio Music Department, and not to the composers Victor Schertzinger and Gus Kahn. The name, Oscar, was not adopted by the Academy until 1939. The popular myth behind the name is that Academy librarian, Margaret Herrick, thought the award resembled her uncle Oscar. This title is not currently in the library system.



Pinocchio becomes the first of many Disney productions to win an Oscar for an original score. The award was presented to composers Leigh Harline, Paul J. Smith, and Ned Washington.



Oklahoma! takes home the gold for the “Scoring of a Musical Picture.” At the time there were two awards for scoring, one for dramas and comedies and another for musicals. The award for Oklahoma! was not presented to Richard Rogers, the composer of the musical, but to Robert Russell Bennett, Jay Blackton, and Adolph Deutsch who worked on the original music and arrangements used in the film.


Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Henry Mancini wins his first Oscar for his jazz-influenced score for Breakfast at Tiffany’s. This moment is particularly influential because it paves the way for other composers and musicians to write scores based on musical idioms outside the western classical tradition.


The Godfather Part II

Nino Rota wins his first and only Oscar for The Godfather Part II. He had previously been nominated for The Godfather in 1973. However, his nomination was revoked because it was discovered that he repurposed the famous love theme from a score he had already written for the film, Fortunella, in 1958. The Academy rules require that the music has to be written specifically for the film for which it is nominated.



John Williams wins his first Oscar for an original score for Jaws. He had previously taken home a statuette for his adapted score for the film version of Fiddler on the Roof in 1972. He would go on to be nominated for a whopping 50 Academy Awards, more than any other composer!


Chariots of Fire

Vangelis wins for Chariots of Fire. This was the first electronic-based score to win an Academy Award, and it would pave the way for future electronic scores.


Purple Rain

Prince nabs an Oscar for Purple Rain. This undisputed masterpiece includes elements of Rock, Rap, R&B, Funk, and Pop.


Little Mermaid

Alan Menken marks the Disney renaissance with his first Academy Award for The Little Mermaid. He would go on win three more Oscars for Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Pocahontas.



Rachel Portman becomes the first woman to receive an Oscar for an original score. Sadly, only ten women have ever been nominated for this award and Portman was the first to be nominated as sole composer. She would go on to be a major Oscar contender with her music for The Cider House Rules and Chocolat. This year Mica Levi (aka Micachu) carries on the tradition of great women composers with her nomination for Jackie.


The Fellowship of the Ring

Howard Shore’s epic and groundbreaking score wins him his first Oscar. He had previously been known simply as the composer for David Cronenberg thrillers. With his first trip to Middle Earth he made a name for himself as a composer perfectly suited to large-scale orchestral and choral forms, even when setting music to lyrics in Elvish.


The Hateful Eight

Veteran composer, Ennio Morricone, becomes the oldest person to win a competitive Oscar category. He was 87 when he took home top honors for his score for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. This item is currently on order and will arrive soon.

Photo Attribution: TashTish at en.wikipedia

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