Only a few classic rock musicians or bands have been fortunate enough to win a coveted Academy Award for music they’ve written. In fact, there are fewer than 15 winners in this category, with only a single artist scoring more than one Oscar. One group on the list has won an Oscar but NOT a Grammy (The Swell Season, comprised of Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová) although Bret McKenzie could technically fall into this category as well, since his Grammy win was for a spoken word comedy album, not for a musical composition.
Here are 15 rock artists who have won Academy Awards.
01 The Beatles
Best Original Song Score for Let It Be (1970)
This is a great way to start the list, with the Beatles’ win for their documentary of the making of their 12th album, Let It Be. The film also includes footage of their last public performance. Musical director of the Academy Awards, Quincy Jones, accepted the award on their behalf.
02 Stevie Wonder
Best Original Song for “I Just Called to Say I Love You” from The Woman in Red (1984)
Gene Wilder wrote, directed and starred in this funny sex farce. It was quite a competition that year for best original song – Phil Collins with “Against All Odds”, Kenny Loggins with “Footloose”, “Let’s Hear It For The Boys” from Footloose, and Ray Parker, Jr. with “Ghostbusters”. Talk about an 80s flashback!
Best Original Song Score for Purple Rain (1984)
Strangely, Prince was not nominated for the song “Purple Rain”, but did score the Academy Award for Best Original Song Score. Maybe that was best, as the mainstream competition in 1894 (shown above) was fierce.
04 David Byrne
Best Original Score for The Last Emperor (1987)
David Byrne was one of three composers from this album to share the Academy Award for Best Original Score in 1987. In the 80s, Byrne became involved musically with many plays and movies and his interest in theater and movies has continued to this day with his album/play/multimedia project, American Utopia.
05 Carly Simon
Best Original Song for “Let the River Run” from Working Girl (1988)
“Let The River Run,” written solely by Carly. Simon, scored a triple – the Oscar, a Golden Globes Award, and a Grammy. The song made Simon the first solo artist in history to gain that distinction.
06 Bruce Springsteen
Best Original Song for “Streets of Philadelphia” from Philadelphia (1993)
The winner of four Grammy Awards, Bruce Springsteen‘s “Streets of Philadelphia” was a tearjerker highlighting the struggles of people living with HIV/AIDS from the movie Philadelphia. It went on to be listed on every “best of” song list for movies.
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07 Elton John
Best Original Song for “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” from The Lion King (1994)
Composed with lyrics by Tim Rice, this Elton John classic has become one of the biggest selling singles of all-time worldwide. Currently, The Lion King is the #7 highest-grossing movie ever, and was the highest-grossing animated film as well, until it was surpassed by Finding Nemo.
08 Phil Collins
Best Original Song for “You’ll Be in My Heart” from Tarzan
Amazingly, Phil Collins recorded the entire soundtrack to Tarzan in five languages: English, Spanish, French, Italian and German. “You’ll Be In My Heart” was his last Top 40 charting single of his solo career.
09 Bob Dylan
Best Original Song for “Things Have Changed” from Wonder Boys (2000)
According to Bob Dylan‘s drummer, David Kemper, this song was recorded in only two takes while on a day off from touring in New York City. A “comedy-drama” film about a man suffering from a mid-life crisis, Dylan accepted the award by saying, “I want to thank the members of the Academy who were bold enough to give me this award for this song, which obviously is a song that doesn’t pussyfoot around nor turn a blind eye to human nature.”
10 Annie Lennox
Best Original Song for “Into The West” from Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Annie Lennox co-wrote this song with screenwriter Fran Walsh and composer Howard Shore and also scored a Grammy and a Golden Globe that year. An additional Lennox song written for the movie is featured as a bonus track on the Lord of the Rings DVD release.
11 Melissa Ehtridge
Best Original Song for “I Need to Wake Up” from An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
Melissa Etheridge’s “I Need To Wake Up” marked the first time that a song from a documentary took home the Oscar for Best Original Song. Upon winning, she said, “Mostly I have to thank Al Gore, for inspiring us, for inspiring me, showing that caring about the Earth is not Republican or Democrat; it’s not red or blue, it’s all green.”
12 Glen Hansard &Markéta Irglová
Best Original Song for “Falling Slowly” from Once (2007)
The only artists/group on tthis list not to have received a Grammy in their careers, Hansard and Irglová notched a major win with this Oscar, awarded for the song from their Irish musical romance film, Once. The duo performed as the group The Swell Season for about a decade, but both say they have no plans to tour again as their careers have gone in different directions.
13 Trent Reznor
Best Original Music Score for The Social Network (2010)
Best known as the founder and lead vocalist of Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor is now one of the “go-to” composers for film scoring. His credits include The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, Bird Box, and the upcoming Disney animated film, Soul.
14 Bret McKenzie
Best Original Song for “Man or Muppet” from The Muppets (2011)
Bret McKenzie is best known as one-half of the New Zealand comedy duo Flight of the Conchords and was shocked when “Man or Muppet” won the Oscar for Best Original Song. Unbelievably, this is the third Muppet movie song to be nominated for the award and the 12th Disney song to actually win.
15 Elton John
Best Original Song for “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from Rocketman (2019)
Written with lyricist Bernie Taupin, it’s fitting that Elton John and his longtime collaborator won an Oscar for this original song from the movie based on John’s life. Elated to win an Oscar with Taupin, John said, “Outside of my husband and children, it’s the most important relationship in my life, we really love each other and the film captures that. We’ve had arguments – but we’ve never fallen out, despite all the ridiculous crap we’ve been through.”