It’s Oscar time. This month, in recognition of the 85th Academy Awards ceremony on February 24th, I’m playing songs that won the Award between 1935 and 1950.
The first gold statuettes were handed out in 1929, but it wasn’t until 1935 that the category of Best Song from a Motion Picture was introduced. That year, only three songs were nominated. By 1946 there were 14 nominees, and rules were changed to allow no more than five songs to be considered each year.
The first Oscar for Best Song went to “The Continental,” from the film The Gay Divorcée. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers hoofed their way through the song’s 18-minute production number. The sheet music became a best seller and featured 27 action photos on the back cover, illustrating Fred and Ginger’s moves for aspiring dancers who wanted to try their own version of “The Continental.”
I enjoy using my reference librarian skills to find background information about the songs I play, bits that I can share with my older listeners about how songs came to be written, or about the people who wrote them.
Here’s a sample of what I’ll be telling my audiences about the Best Songs I’m playing throughout February:
- Dorothy Fields wrote the lyrics to the 1936 winner “The Way You Look Tonight,” making her the first woman to receive an Academy Award for songwriting.
- Jerome Kern objected when one of his own compositions was named Best Song of 1941. “The Last Time I Saw Paris” started as a poem by Oscar Hammerstein II, written after France fell to Germany in 1940; Kern set the words to music. The song was published and recorded by Kate Smith and then added to the film Lady Be Good. Kern felt that the song should not have been eligible for the award because he and Hammerstein did not write it directly for the movie. Now rules require that only original songs written specifically for a film can be nominated.
- Irving Berlin presented an Academy Award to himself when he won for his 1942 song “White Christmas.” He was presenter as well as nominee at the ceremony that year. He reportedly quipped, “This goes to a nice guy. I’ve known him all my life.”
You can find a complete list of winning and nominated songs, including composers and film titles, here.
Copyright © 2013 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.