Oscar Preview: Women Who Have Won Best Song

Paul Grein
Stop The Presses!

Adele’s hit “Skyfall” is the heavy favorite to win the Oscar for Best Song on Sunday. It was a top 10 hit, the movie was a blockbuster and Adele is the hottest thing going in pop music. As if that’s not enough, last year was the 50th anniversary of the James Bond franchise, a milestone that will be saluted on the Oscar telecast. How can another song compete with all of that?

“Skyfall” is vying to become the first song from a Bond film to win the Oscar. “Live And Let Die,” “Nobody Does It Better” and “For Your Eyes Only” were all nominated, but lost.

If “Skyfall” wins, Adele will become only the 12th woman in Oscar history to win for Best Song. Adele, 24, collaborated on the music and lyrics with Paul Epworth, with whom she also co-wrote “Rolling In The Deep.”

Another woman is in the running for Best Song this year. Bombay Jayashri wrote the lyric to “Pi’s Lullaby” from Life Of Pi. But this seems to be Skyfall’s year.

Here’s a complete list of the first 11 women to win the biggest prize in movie music. They’re listed in chronological order.

Dorothy Fields, 1936. Fields (pictured here with composer Arthur Schwartz) was the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Song. She won for writing the lyric to “The Way You Look Tonight” from the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movie Swing Time. Jerome Kern composed the music. “The first time (Jerome) played that melody for me I went out and started to cry,” Fields once said…. “I couldn’t stop. It was so beautiful.” Astaire sang the song in the movie. His recording of the song was a smash hit. The song has (deservedly) gone on to become one of the foremost standards in American popular music. Fields was also the first woman to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Song. She was nominated the previous year for co-writing “Lovely To Look At” from another Astaire/Rogers movie, Roberta. Fields died in 1974.

Marilyn Bergman, 1968 and 1973. Bergman is the only woman to win two Oscars for Best Song. She shared both awards with her husband and lyric writing partner, Alan Bergman. They won their first for “The Windmills Of Your Mind” from The Thomas Crown Affair. (Michel Legrand composed the music.) They won their second for the title song to The Way We Were. (Marvin Hamlisch composed the music.) Marilyn Bergman has amassed more nominations for Best Song (15) than any other woman in Oscar history. She has shared all of them with her husband. They won a third Oscar for Best Original Song Score or Adaptation Score for 1983’s Yentl. Noel Harrison sang “The Windmills Of Your Mind” on The Thomas Crown Affair soundtrack. A cover version by Dusty Springfield made the top 40. Barbra Streisand sang “The Way We Were” on that movie soundtrack. Her single was #1 for three weeks. A cover version by Gladys Knight & the Pips made the top 15 in 1975. The song won a Grammy as Song of the Year for 1974.

Barbra Streisand, 1976. Streisand was the first woman to win an Oscar for composing the music to a Best Song winner (Fields and Bergman had written the lyrics). She was also the first woman to win for a song that she sang in the movie. Streisand won for composing “Evergreen (Love Theme From ‘A Star Is Born’).” Paul Williams wrote the lyric. Streisand’s single was #1 for three weeks and later won Grammys for Song of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female. Streisand is the only woman to win Oscars for both songwriting and acting. She took Best Actress for 1968’s Funny Girl. Streisand received a second Oscar nomination for Best Song for co-writing “I Finally Found Someone” from a 1996 movie that she directed, The Mirror Has Two Faces.

Carole Bayer Sager, 1981. Sager was the first woman to win an Oscar for co-writing both the music and lyric. She won for “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do),” which she co-wrote with Burt Bacharach, Christopher Cross and Peter Allen. Cross sang the song on the movie soundtrack. His single was #1 for three weeks. Sager and Bacharach were married shortly after the Oscars (they divorced in 1991). Sager has amassed six nominations for Best Song, for such songs as “Nobody Does It Better,” “Through The Eyes Of Love” and “The Prayer.” Though Sager has had far more success as a songwriter, she also charted with two songs as an artist: “You’re Moving Out Today” and “Stronger Than Before.”

Buffy Sainte-Marie, 1982. The Canadian folkie won for composing the music to “Up Where We Belong” from the blockbuster An Officer And A Gentleman with Jack Nitzsche, whom she married in 1983. Will Jennings wrote the lyric. Joe Cocker & Jennifer Warnes sang the song on the movie soundtrack. Their single was #1 for three weeks and later won a Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. Sainte-Marie first bubbled under the Hot 100 as an artist in 1970 with a version of Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game” from the movie The Strawberry Statement. She landed her only top 40 hit as an artist in 1972 with a non-movie song, “Mister Can’t You See.”

Irene Cara, 1983. Cara won for co-writing the lyric to “Flashdance…What A Feeling” with Keith Forsey. Giorgio Moroder composed the music. Cara sang the song on the movie soundtrack. Her single was #1 for six weeks and later won a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female. Cara first charted in 1980 with another Oscar-winning song, “Fame,” but she didn’t write that one. (She was the second female artist, following Barbra Streisand, to introduce an Oscar-winning song and later win an Oscar for co-writing another one.) Cara has charted with two other songs from movies: “Out Here On My Own,” also from Fame, and “The Dream (Hold On To Your Dream)” from 1983’s D.C. Cab.

Carly Simon, 1988. Simon won for “Let The River Run,” which she wrote for Working Girl. Simon was the first female songwriter to win an Oscar for a song that she wrote by herself. She sang the song on the movie soundtrack. Her single reached #49. The song also won a Grammy for Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television. This marked the second time that Simon wrote a song for a movie directed by Mike Nichols. She wrote “Coming Around Again” for his 1986 movie Heartburn. It reached #18. That song was Oscar-worthy but wasn’t nominated. Simon has also charted with two other movie songs (that she didn’t write): “Nobody Does It Better” from The Spy Who Loved Me (#2 in 1977) and “Why” from Soup For One (#74 in 1982).

Annie Lennox, 2003. The Scottish singer won for “Into The West” from The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King. She co-wrote the music and lyrics with Fran Walsh and Howard Shore. The song also won a Grammy for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media. Lennox sang the song on the movie soundtrack. The song failed to crack the Hot 100. Lennox’s only top 10 hit as a solo artist was from a movie. She and Al Green recorded a remake of the Jackie DeShannon smash “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” for the 1988 Bill Murray comedy Scrooged. As one-half of Eurythmics, Lennox charted in 1984 with “Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty-Four)” from the movie 1984.

Fran Walsh, 2003. Walsh was the co-writer on the above song. This marks the only time that two women won for co-writing the same song. Walsh is also the only woman to win a second Oscar, besides Best Song, that same year. In fact, she won two more that year. She shared the awards for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay with her husband, Peter Jackson. (There was a third co-producer, Barrie M. Osborne, and a third co-screenwriter, Philippa Boyens.)

Melissa Etheridge, 2006. Etheridge won for “I Need To Wake Up” from An Inconvenient Truth, the Al Gore documentary about climate change. She’s the second woman (following Carly Simon) to win for a song that she wrote all by herself. She sang the song on the movie soundtrack. It failed to crack the Hot 100.

Marketa Irglova, 2007. The Czech-born singer won for “Falling Slowly” from Once, which she co-wrote with Glen Hansard, with whom she was romantically involved at the time. They also starred in, and sang the song in, the movie. Their single reached #61. The song has since become a favorite of American Idol contestants. Kris Allen and Lee DeWyze & Crystal Bowersox have put it back on the chart.

For the record, “Skyfall” is competing for Best Song with “Before My Time” from Chasing Ice (music and lyric by J. Ralph), “Everybody Needs A Best Friend” from Ted (music by Walter Murphy, lyric by Seth MacFarlane), “Pi’s Lullaby” from Life Of Pi (music by Mychael Danna, lyric by Bombay Jayashri) and “Suddenly” from Les Miserables (music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Lyric by Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil).