In 1927, the first feature-length motion picture with synchronized audio dialogue sequences was released. The film was “The Jazz Singer” starring Al Jolson who performed six songs. Directed by Alan Crosland and produced by Warner Bros. with a Vitaphone sound-on-disc system, it was the first of the “talkies” and heralded the decline of the silent film era. It also brought movie music into American culture.

The Jazz Singer

Movies play a significant role as an arbiter of popular culture: they offer us beautiful people doing important things in wonderful situations. The storytelling is so carefully crafted and utterly controlled to tap into our common consciousness that we (the viewers) can only draw the conclusions that the creative staff intended. The formula is simple: get our attention, draw us into the lives of the characters (get us to care about them), and lead us through their story. They determine what we see, what we hear, and what they want us to experience.

It is storytelling at its finest. Once we care about the lives of the characters, we are sympathetic to their outlook on life. It is as if we know them so well that we consider them friends and family. Movie characters always have a powerful impact on the people around them involving love, drama, war, murder, politics, saving the world, etc. Whatever the case, their lives are a bit more important than ours. If we like the way they deport themselves, we start to dress like them, talk like them, we even begin to imagine what they would do under different circumstances. Their imaginary characters and values are projected into our existence, and we accept them as an extension of our lives. It has an impact on popular culture.

Imaginary lives have soundtracks (of course). The movie soundtracks always support and enhance the storyline with the appropriate emotion: suspense, passion, outrage, climax, uncertainty, tenderness, chaos, and so on. It might be by the use of a single instrument: a guitar, cello, oboe or simple percussion. It may also require a philharmonic orchestra and chorus. I believe the Columbia recording sessions of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” (Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the Cleveland Orchestra and chorus) had approximately 600 musicians and vocalists.

Good stories stick with us. It is an emotional attachment that becomes part of our long-term memory of experience. It helps shape our worldview and defines concepts like justice, fairness, conflict, and conflict resolution. The supporting music becomes part of that experience. Like Pavlov’s dog, the soundtrack draws out a predictable emotional response. Certain soundtracks can bring tears to some people’s eyes or cause us to tense right up. The simple theme to “Jaws” can cause many people discomfort and the desire to stay out of the water.

Common movie thematic categories include:

  • Action
  • Adventure
  • Animation
  • Comedy
  • Drama
  • Fantasy
  • Foreign
  • Horror
  • James Bond
  • Kids
  • Musicals
  • Classics
  • Historic Reenactments
  • Romance
  • Science Fiction
  • Sports
  • Suspense
  • War
  • Westerns

No matter what your cultural background, it is likely that you can think of soundtracks to films in some or many of the categories above and hum or sing them through. One popular website offers 6,874 movie soundtracks for sale.

In some cases, popular musicians are used to score current films, and in other cases, movie studio teams are hired to create the supporting scores. Either way, the music becomes an integral part of our popular culture and helps shape musical trends.

List of Academy Awards for Songs

The first awards were given in 1927, the same year as the first sound film The Jazz Singer. No musical awards for songs were included until 1934.

Date Song Film Composers
1934 The Continental The Gay Divorcee Herb Magidson & Con Conrad
1935 Lullaby of Broadway Gold Diggers of 1935 Al Dubin & Harry Warren
1936 The Way You Look Tonight Swing Time Dorothy Fields & Jerome Kern
1937 Sweet Lellani Waikiki Wedding Harry Owens
1938 Thanks for the Memory The Big Broadcast of 1938 Leo Robin & Ralph Ranger
1939 Over the Rainbow The Wizard of Oz E.Y. Harburg & Harold Arlen
1940 When You Wish Upon A Star Pinocchio Ned Washington & Leigh Harline
1941 The Last Time I Saw Paris Lady Be Good Oscar Hammerstein II & Jerome Kern
1942 White Christmas Holiday Inn Irving Berlin
1943 You’ll Never Know Hello, Frisco, Hello Mack Gordon & Harry Warren
1944 Swingin’ On A Star Going My Way Johnny Burke & Jimmy van Heusen
1945 It Might As Well Be Spring State Fair Oscar Hammerstein II & Richard Rodgers
1946 On the Atchison, Topeka & the Santa Fe The Harvey Girls Johnny Mercer & Harry Warren
1947 Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah Song of the South Ray Gilbert & Allie Wrubel
1948 Buttons and Bows Paleface Ray Evans & Jay Livingston
1949 Baby It’s Cold Outside Neptune’s Daughter Frank Loesser
1950 Mona Lisa Captain Carey, U.S.A. Ray Evans & Jay Livingston
1951 In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening Here Comes the Groom Johnny Mercer & Hoagy Carmichael
1952 High Noon High Noon Ned Washington & Dimitri Tiomkin
1953 Secret Love Calamity Jane Paul Francis Webster & Sammy Fain
1954 Three Coins In a Fountain Three Coins in a Fountain Sammy Cahn & Jule Styne
1955 Love is a Many Splendored Thing Love is a Many Splendored Thing Paul Francis Webster & Sammy Fain
1956 Que Sera, Sera The Man Who Knew Too Much Ray Evans & Jay Livingston
1957 All The Way All The Way Sammy Cahn & Jimmy Van Heusen
1958 Gigi Gigi Alan Jay Lerner & Frederick Loewe
1959 High Hopes A Hole in the Head Sammy Cahn & Jimmy Van Heusen
1960 Never on Sunday Never on Sunday Manos Hadjidakis
1961 Moon River Breakfast at Tiffany’s Johnny Mercer & Henry Mancini
1962 Days of Wine and Roses Days of Wine and Roses Johnny Mercer & Henry Mancini
1963 Call Me Irresponsible Papa’s Delicate Condition Sammy Cahn & Jimmy Van Heusen
1964 Chim Chim Cheree Mary Poppins Richard M. Sherman & Robert B. Sherman
1965 The Shadow of Your Smile The Sandpiper Paul Francis Webster & Johnny Mandel
1966 Born Free Born Free Don Black & John Barry
1967 Talk to the Animals Doctor Doolittle Leslie Bricusse
1968 The Windmills of Your Mind The Thomas Crown Affair Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman & Michel LeGrand
1969 Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Hal David & Burt Bacharach
1970 For All We Know Lovers and Other Strangers Fred Karlin (music); Jimmy Griffin & Robb Royer (music)
1971 The Theme From Shaft Shaft Isaac Hayes
1972 The Morning After The Poseidon Adventure Al Kasha & Joel Hirschorn
1973 The Way We Were The Way We Were Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman & Marvin Hamlish
1974 We May Never Love Like This Again The Towering Inferno Al Kasha & Joel Hirschorn
1975 I’m Easy Nashville Keith Carradine
1976 Evergreen A Star Is Born Paul Williams & Barbra Streisand
1977 You Light Up My Life You Light Up My Life Joseph Brooks
1978 Last Dance Thank God It’s Friday Paul Jabara
1979 It Goes Like It Goes Norma Rae Normal Gimbel
1980 Fame Fame Dolly Parton
1981 Best That You Can Do Arthur Peter Allen, Burt Bacharach, Christopher Cross & Carole Bayer Sager (music and lyrics)
1982 Up Where We Belong An Officer and A Gentleman Jack Nitzsche, Will Jennings & Buffy Sainte Marie
1983 What A Feeling Flashdance Keith Forsey, Irene Cara &
1984 I Just Called to Say I Love You The Lady In Red Stevie Wonder
1985 Say You, Say Me White Nights Lionel Richie
1986 Take My Breath Away Top Gun Giorgio Moroder & Tom Whitlock
1987 (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life Dirty Dancing Franke Previte, John DeNicola, Donald Markowitz & Franke Previte
1988 Let the River Run Working Girl Carly Simon
1989 Under the Sea The Little Mermaid Alan Menken & Howard Ashman
1990 Sooner Or Later Dick Tracy Stephen Sondheim
1991 Beauty and the Beast Beauty and the Beast Alan Menken & Howard Ashman
1992 A Whole New World Aladdin Alan Menken & Tim Rice
1993 Streets of Philadelphia Philadelphia Bruce Springsteen
1994 Can You Feel the Love Tonight The Lion King Elton John & Tim Rice
1995 Colors of the Wind Pocahontas Alan Menken & Stephen Schwartz
1996 You Must Love Me Evita Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice
1997 My Heart Will Go On Titanic James Horner & Will Jennings
1998 When You Believe The Prince of Egypt Stephen Schwartz
1999 You’ll Be in My heart Tarzan Phil Collins
2000 Things Have Changed Wonder Boys Bob Dylan
2001 If I Didn’t Have You Monsters, Inc. Randy Newman
2002 Lose Yourself 8 Mile Eminem, Jeff Bass & Luis Resto
2003 Into the West The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King Fran Walsh, Howard Shore & Annie Lennox
2004 Al Otro Lado Del Rio The Motorcycle Diaries Jorge Drexler
2005 It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp Hustle & Flow Jordan Houston, Cedric Coleman & Paul Beauregard
2006 I Need to Wake Up An Inconvenient Truth Melissa Etheridge
2007 Falling Slowly Once Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová
2008 Jai Ho Slumdog Millionaire m: A.R.Rahman, l: Gulzar
2009 The Weary Kind Crazy Heart Ryan Bingham & T-Bone Burnett
2010 We Belong Together Toy Story 3 Randy Newman
2011 Man or Muppet The Muppets Bret McKenzie
2012 Skyfall Skyfall Adel Adkins & Paul Epworth
2013 Let It Go Frozen Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robert Lopez
2014 Glory Selma John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn
2015 Writing’s On The Wall Spectre Jimmy Napes and Sam Smith
2016 City of Stars La La Land Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
2017 Remember Me Coco Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
MOST NOMINATIONS NAME ([#] indicates number of awards)
26 Sammy Cahn [4]
18 Johnny Mercer [4]
16 Paul Francis Webster [3]
15 Alan Bergman [2]
15 Marilyn Bergman [2]
14 James Van Heusen [4]
13 Alan Menken [4]
11 Henry Mancini [2]
11 Harry Warren [3]
11 Ned Washington [2]
10 Sammy Fain [2]
10 Leo Robin [1]
10 Jule Styne [1]
MOST AWARDS NAME ([#] indicates number of nominations)
4 Sammy Cahn [26]
4 Alan Menken [13]
4 Johnny Mercer [18]
4 James Van Heusen [14]
3 Ray Evans [7]
3 Jay Livingston [7]
3 Tim Rice [5]
3 Harry Warren [11]
3 Paul Francis Webster [16]

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