J. Ralph & Antony Hegarty's Oscar-Nominated Song Was Inspired By Singing of Extinct Bird

Matthew Eisman/Getty Images for World of McIntosh)
Composer J. Ralph speaks at the WOM Townhouse: The Perfection of Sound event on Oct.14, 2015 in New York City. 

Following the news of his second best original song Oscar nomination this morning for "Manta Ray," the song he composed with Antony Hegarty for the documentary Racing Extinction, J. Ralph got on the phone with Billboard to explain the haunting impetus behind this Academy Award contender.

Ralph, who was previously nominated for “Before My Time” from the documentary Chasing Ice, based the music for “Manta Ray” on a heartbreaking clip he saw of the last existing male Kauai O’o bird. “He’s singing for a female that would never come. They mate for life and so it was incredibly harrowing to see this bird singing this song fully unaware that he’s the last of his species,” Ralph says, referring to a bird that is now entirely extinct. “At that moment I knew the melody of the song had to be almost a response to this call.”

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Ralph wrote the melody and then called a good friend, Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons, to compose the lyrics and perform the song. “I said, ‘If I had one voice to represent the fate of humanity, it would be you.’ We talked about what the lyrics could be and what the song could do. She called me a few hours later and said, ‘I think I’ve got it,’ and came back and we recorded it.” His hope is that the nomination helps “amplify the message about species extinction and the fate of our planet.” 

Chris Rock will host this year's Oscars on Feb. 28. The full list of best original song nominees is below.

Best Original Song
“Earned It” from Fifty Shades of Grey
Music and Lyric by Abel Tesfaye, Ahmad Balshe, Jason Daheala Quenneville and Stephan Moccio
“Manta Ray” from Racing Extinction
Music by J. Ralph and Lyric by Antony Hegarty
“Simple Song #3” from Youth
Music and Lyric by David Lang
“Til It Happens To You” from The Hunting Ground
Music and Lyric by Diane Warren and Lady Gaga
“Writing’s On The Wall” from Spectre
Music and Lyric by Jimmy Napes and Sam Smith

Oscars 2016