Oscars

Six Oscar Nominees Who Set New Records for Song and Score

oscar nominees 2021
Illustration by David Despau

While all of the nominees for best original song and best original score at the 93rd annual Academy Awards — set for April 25 — have reason to celebrate their achievements, the following six contenders should feel particularly proud as their nominations made history.

Leslie Odom Jr., who is the fourth actor in four years to receive Oscar nods for acting and songwriting in the same year, believes it’s easier to shatter ceilings because “there’s less boundaries in the industry than there used to be.”

“There really is an opportunity right now to bring all that you are to projects,” he continues. “It used to be that if you were a television star, you were a television star. If you made music, you only made music. It was a lot harder to just come and say, ‘I’m a creative person, and I’d like to be creative in these different areas.’”

Leslie Odom Jr.

Odom scored two nominations for his work in One Night in Miami... He is nominated for best original song for “Speak Now” (which he co-wrote with songwriter Sam Ashworth) and best supporting actor for his portrayal of R&B great Sam Cooke.

From 1934, when the Oscars introduced the best original song category, through 2016, no one received nominations for songwriting and acting in the same year (partly because, years ago, singing actors didn’t usually write their own material and relied more on songwriters instead). Times have changed. For Mudbound (2017), Mary J. Blige was nominated for best song for “Mighty River” and best supporting actress. For A Star Is Born (2018), Lady Gaga won best song for “Shallow” and was nominated for best actress. For Harriet (2019), Cynthia Erivo was nominated for best song for “Stand Up” and best actress for her role as famed abolitionist Harriet Tubman.

Odom now joins Erivo as the second double-nominee to be recognized for a film in which he or she played a real-life character.

H.E.R., D'Mile and Tiara Thomas

In the span of 12 hours in early March, H.E.R., D’Mile (Dernst Emile II) and Tiara Thomas achieved two career milestones. On the evening of March 14, they won a Grammy for song of the year for “I Can’t Breathe,” which became an anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement upon its June release. And before the sun came up the following morning, they received an Oscar nomination for best original song for “Fight for You” from Judas and the Black Messiah.

It’s the first time in 35 years that a songwriter or songwriting team has received an Oscar nod in the same awards season that they won a Grammy for song of the year for a different song.

Lionel Richie was nominated for an Oscar on Feb. 5, 1986, for “Say You, Say Me” from White Nights. (The ballad went on to win the Oscar.) Later, on Feb. 25, he won a Grammy for song of the year for “We Are the World,” the iconic humanitarian anthem that he co-wrote with Michael Jackson.

On one other occasion, a songwriter or songwriting team received an Oscar nod in the same awards season that they won a Grammy for song of the year for a different song.Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer were nominated for an Oscar in February 1964, for writing the title song from Charade. In May of that year, they won a Grammy for song of the year for the title song from Days of Wine and Roses, which had won an Oscar the previous year.

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

The rockers-turned-A-list composers have two nominations for best original score — Mank and Soul (they teamed with Jon Batiste on the latter). They are the first composer or composing team to have two scores nominated in the same year since Alexandre Desplat accomplished the feat six years ago with The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Imitation Game.

John Williams had two scores nominated for best original score in the same year an impressive eight times between 1972 and 2011, while Johnny Green competed against himself in the now-defunct category scoring of a musical picture in 1951 and 1956. No one else has had two nods in a scoring category more than once since 1946, when the number of nominees in scoring categories dropped to the current five (from a whopping 21 the previous year).

Other composers who have had two nominees in a scoring category in one year are James Horner (1995), Thomas Newman (1994), Bernard ­Herrmann (1976), Hugo Friedhofer (1957) and Alex North (1951). The nomination for Soul is the first time that three composers have shared a nomination in a scoring category since 1998, when Matthew Wilder, David Zippel and Jerry Goldsmith were nominated for Mulan in the defunct best original musical or comedy score category.

If Soul wins, this will be the first time that three composers have shared a scoring award since 1987, when David Byrne, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Cong Su took best original score for The Last Emperor.

Billboard Explains: How Grammy Nominees and Winners Are Chosen

This article originally appeared in the April 3, 2021 issue of Billboard.