Whenever most people think about the Academy Awards, it’s the actors, actresses and directors that often come to mind first. (Congratulations to Octavia Spencer on joining the short list of African American Oscar winners during the 84th Annual Academy Awards.) However, there are dozens of other categories that highlight the hard work of Hollywood’s behind-the-scenes players. For instance, the categories of Best Original Song and Best Original Score feature several African American winners. Here are seven oftentimes forgotten names from the world of music on the list of African American winners. —Darralynn Hutson
In 1971, Hayes brought home the Academy Award for Best Original Song after writing, producing and singing “The Theme from Shaft.” As the title suggests, the song was the title track for Richard Roundtree’s Blaxploitation classic Shaft. The win made Hayes the first African American winner in the category, as well as the first African American to win an Oscar in a category outside of acting.
The singer/actress took home a Best Original Song Oscar in 1983 for co-writing “What a Feeling,” which was featured in the dance film, Flashdance. The first African American woman to win a non-acting Oscar, Cara is also know for her acting and performance in the 1980 film, Fame.
Among his many career accomplishments, which include over 20 Grammy Awards, Wonder also has Oscar among his collection of trophies. His Hollywood stamp of approval came in 1984 for “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” which appeared in the film, The Woman in Red.
During the 1985 Academy Awards show, Richie took home an Oscar for “Say You, Say Me” from the film, White Knights.
Noted jazz player Hancock won the Oscar for Best Original Score in 1986 for his work in Round Midnight, making him the first African American to win in that category.
THREE 6 MAFIA
After nearly a 19-year gap, rappers/producers Juicy J and DJ Paul of Three 6 Mafia, along with Frayser Boy, added on to the collection of African American artists to win an Oscar in the music category. Their 2005 crossover hit, “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” which was featured on the independent film, Hustle & Flow, gave them the distinction of being the first hip-hop artists to earn an Oscar.