As the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences officially welcomes more than 250 new members into its fold this week, we look back at the earliest days of our organization.
On January 11, 1927, thirty-six of Hollywood’s most prominent figures, including Louis B. Mayer, Mary Pickford, Sid Grauman, Jesse Lasky, Cecil B. DeMille, Douglas Fairbanks, Cedric Gibbons and Irving Thalberg, met to discuss the establishment of an honorary membership organization that would represent the motion picture community. As the industry leaders described in “The Reasons Why,” an early informational pamphlet, they wanted to create an organization that would “do for the motion picture profession in all its branches what other great national and international constructive bodies have done for other arts and sciences and industries.”
The founding members of the Academy invited 300 industry notables to a banquet at the Biltmore Hotel on May 11, 1927, to celebrate and garner support for the fledgling organization, which by then was officially recognized by the State of California. That evening, 230 of the distinguished guests, representing the original five branches of the Academy—Actors, Directors, Producers, Writers and Technicians—became members.
By the early 1930s, membership in the Academy had grown to more than 700 industry professionals, and the invitation-only group had begun to attract attention outside of California as a result of its annual awards ceremony. Among those thrilled to join the organization was actress Jean Harlow, who sent the following letter to the Board of Governors.
Materials documenting the history of the Academy and the Academy Awards can be viewed in Margaret Herrick Library Digital Collections.
Next month, the Academy is celebrating The Black Movie Soundtrack at the Hollywood Bowl on September 3rd at 8pm with special guest performances and screen clips honoring the multidimensional influence of music and movies. To celebrate this event, we have highlights of some select recordings from the Margaret Herrick Library’s Brad Bennett collection of soundtracks and the Music and Recorded Sound collection, featuring songs that defined a film and the music that transformed films into classics. In a nod to movie music nostalgia, here’s a curated vinyl jukebox of the Academy’s holdings dedicated to the black movie soundtrack.
Sometimes sound surpasses the visual, turning films into a powerful experience. Consider the revered anthem of Shaft, the emotional shading of the The Color Purple’s score, and the musical gem of 20th Century Fox’s Stormy Weather, whose use of dance and music brought a new vitality to the art form.
Strong, dynamic vocals were the centerpiece of 1995’s Waiting to Exhale. Soundtrack producer Babyface assembled artists such as Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Whitney Houston, and Chaka Khan — the film and its music came to embody female empowerment.
Music producers often have the vision to tie disparate songs into a cohesive theme, elevating a film’s soundtrack to cult status. Producer Quincy Jones’ soundtrack to the musical feature The Wiz enhanced the original Broadway score with imaginative compositions and the accompaniment of New York jazz musicians. Here’s the cover of a highlights album performed by the group Studio 79.
Singer, songwriter, and producer Isaac Hayes will forever be inextricably linked to the soulful soundtrack for Shaft, and was awarded with an Oscar for Best Original Song for the “Theme From Shaft” at the 1971 (44th) Academy Awards.
Curtis Mayfield’s classically soulful Super Fly masterfully complements its energetic storytelling with irrepressible melodies.
And not to be forgotten, “The Godfather of Soul,” James Brown crafted his meticulous vocal and instrumental soundtrack around the plotline for the 1973 crime drama Black Caesar.
In 1985, Prince won an Oscar for Best Original Song Score for Purple Rain at the 1984 (57th) Academy Awards. The soundtrack produced by Prince and the Revolution was simultaneously eclectic, stylish, and enigmatic; the music did not escape its R&B roots, and its appeal crossed over to pop, rock, and heavy metal genres, achieving both critical and commercial success.