Three musical moments from the 2024 Academy Awards - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

Last night’s Academy Awards ceremony came at a perilous, cautiously optimistic time for Hollywood. The returning (and predictably reliable) host Jimmy Kimmel described it as a “long night after what was a long year – a hard year.” Strikes from the Writers and Actors Guilds, both of which lasted over 100 days, halted productions and shook up the entire movie business. The COVID pandemic’s sizable impact on the theatrical film business can still be felt but the simultaneous summer time releases of Barbie and Oppenheimer reignited the industry.

The latter was the night’s expected big winner, scooping up seven awards, including Best Picture, Director, and Actor. It’s the kind of star-studded, three-hour wartime historical epic that many often bemoan no longer gets made; nonetheless, it became a mammoth commercial hit racking up nearly a billion dollars at the global box office.

The future of the movies still remains a perilous question but amidst the annual self-congratulatory festivities, this year’s ceremony offered a few musical highlights – as well as a Philly winner. The Mt. Airy native and Temple University graduate Da’Vine Joy Randolph collected the night’s first trophy, Best Supporting Actress, for her performance in the retro Alexander Payne comedy The Holdovers. 


Greta Gerwig’s summer smash didn’t just outdo the wildest of box-office predictions, it generated a true cultural phenomenon by imbuing the most plastic and dated of all brands with a fresh, feminist spin. The Academy nominated the film in seven categories, yet the twin accomplishments of Gerwig’s directing and actress Margot Robbie were notably ignored. The film earned two nominations in the Best Original Song category; the eventual winners were popstar Billie Eilish and her producer/brother FINNEAS for “What Was I Made For?” It’s a slow, poignant piano ballad that showcases Eilish’s stunning, whispery vocals and features lyrics reflecting on the film’s uneasy, existential themes. Last month, it also won Song of the Year at the Grammys.

Its Oscar win cements the song as the first to win both awards since Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” in 1997. The 22-year old Eilish also became the youngest person to ever win two Oscars (she previously won for her James Bond title song “No Time to Die” in 2022). Ryan Gosling also performed his goofy musical showstopper “I’m Just Ken” with choreography that paid clever homage to Marilyn Monroe’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and a bizarre guitar-solo cameo from Slash. It was no surprise to see Eilish collect the trophy; at the Oscars, somber and sincere almost always beats out silliness and originality.

"What Was I Made For?" Performed by Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell | 96th Oscars Performance
"I'm Just Ken" Performed by Ryan Gosling, Mark Ronson, Slash & The Kens | 96th Oscars Performance

Jon Batiste

Jon Batiste grew up in New Orleans playing jazz piano; by 17, he had already released his debut album. Over the course of his short career, the multi instrumentalist has quickly become one of the hardest-working and most awarded contemporary musicians. Many listeners were first introduced to him as bandleader on the The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, while others discovered the artist after his five Grammy wins in 2023.

Batiste already won an Oscar in 2021 for scoring the Pixar film Soul and returned to the ceremony last night to perform his nominated song “It Never Went Away.” The track comes from American Symphony, a deeply moving documentary released last year. Directed by Matthew Heineman, the film follows Batiste himself, as he composes his first symphony and cares for his wife, the writer Suleika Jaouad, as she battles leukemia. Batiste will perform at the Fillmore in Philly on March 17th.

"It Never Went Away" Performed by Jon Batiste | 96th Oscars Performance (2024)

Native American Music / Killers of the Flower Moon

Oscar-nominated songs typically share a few commonalities: piano at the center, sweeping sentimentality, a heavy dose of nostalgia. It was a refreshing surprise to see Scott George and the Osage Singers perform “Wahzhazhe (A Song for My People)” amidst so many more conventional performances. George told the Hollywood Reporter: “if you really wanted to look at it, our music is probably thousands of years old. For it to be recognized maybe for the first time ever, it’s overwhelming.” The performance was filmed largely from above, giving viewers a bird’s eye view of the communal drumming and singing. It was a beautiful moment and a rare recognition of Native American art on one of Hollywood’s biggest stages.

"Wahzhazhe (A Song For My People)" Performed by Scott George and the Osage Singers | 96th Oscars
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