The 10 Most Memorable Oscar Musical Performances

Musical performances are an essential part of an awards show viewing. Many (if not most) people tune in to specifically catch certain performances. Last year’s telecast omitted live music from the ceremony, which not too many people were thrilled with (Did YOU watch it? Case in point.) Luckily, they are back with a vengeance this time around.

In honor of live music at the awards, here are the top 10 most memorable Oscar musical performances:


Michael Jackson stole the 1973 Oscar show with his performance of “Ben,” a heartfelt ballad about a boy’s friendship with a rat from the movie of the same name. MJ was only 14 years old. It may have lost the “Best Original Song” award that year, but “Ben” was his first number one hit without the Jackson 5 – a great beginning to a history-making solo career.

2. BON JOVI (1990)

Super teased hair? Check. Tight leather? Check. With their fantastic getup, Jon Bon Jovi and his band of Jersey rockers made the ’91 Oscars something to remember: Bon Jovi performed “Blaze of Glory,” a ballad written for “Young Guns II.” The song ultimately lost “Best Original Song” to the Madonna-performed song “Sooner or Later” from Dick Tracy. The performance was electric though – and completely blazing indeed.

3. MADONNA (1991)

At the 1991 Oscars, Billy Crystal introduced Madonna’s performance of the Dick Tracy song “Sooner or Later” as “the NC-17 portion of our really big show.” The number really wasn’t nearly as risqué as some of Madonna’s other award-show routines, but as usual, she commanded everyone’s attention with a sultry, full-stage romp. Donning a Marilyn Monroe-inspired gown, fur boa, and bleached-blonde curls, Madonna gave a mind-blowing performance taking us back to the glamorous days of old Hollywood.


One would never have guessed that it was Bruce Springsteen’s first stab at writing a song for a film: the rocker won a “Best Original Song” Oscar in 1994 for “Streets of Philadelphia,” penned for the Tom Hanks AIDS drama Philadelphia. Wearing a polished suit and giving a beautiful performance, Springsteen upped the ante and brought on the waterworks. Touching.

5. CELINE DION (1998)

Anyone who remembers 1998 at all remembers that it was THE year of “Titanic” – the film walked away with nearly all of the top Academy Awards, including “Best Original Song” for “My Heart Will Go On.” You couldn’t go ANYWHERE without hearing the Celine Dion song made famous by the epic James Cameron film. The beloved Canadian songstress performed the ballad with a full backing orchestra and appropriately dramatic fog. Celine pulled out all the stops, wearing a Heart of the Ocean-lookalike necklace and hit all the notes, a blockbuster-caliber performance.


Though Elliott Smith had released three albums by the time he contributed “Miss Misery” to the Matt Damon/Ben Affleck vehicle Good Will Hunting, it was that film’s success that brought him fame. Smith, however, was never too comfortable with all the attention, as his 1998 performance at the Oscars reveals.

7. BJORK (2001)

THE SWAN DRESS. Wait, Bjork performed that year? Yes, the quirky Icelandic vocalist also performed at the ceremony, playing her song “I’ve Seen It All,” the Oscar nominated tune from Dancer in the Dark (without her duet partner Thom Yorke). In the film, Bjork plays a single mother grappling with the loss of her eyesight. Even though it was her dress that turned heads that year, her performance was also a stunner.

8. THREE 6 MAFIA (2006)

Rappers attending the Oscars? WHAAAA?! And they’re performing at the Oscars? DOUBLE WHAAAA?! No, they didn’t sneak in: the Southern rappers performed their “Hustle & Flow” song “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.” The only thing more surprising than the fact that “Pimp” went on to win “Best Original Song”? The fact that Three 6 Mafia made it through this performance without being interrupted by network censors. Miracles do happen at the Oscars!


When Dreamgirls co-stars Beyoncé and Jennifer Hudson took the stage at the 2007 Academy Awards, all anyone wanted to know was which diva would come out on top. The answer: both did. Both Beyoncé and Hudson had their moments to shine during “Love You I Do,” “Listen” and “Patience.” None of the songs won awards that night (they all lost to Melissa Etheridge), but Jennifer sure did: an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Oscar win > American Idol win ANY day!

10. A.H. RAHMAN (2009)

Perhaps a foreshadowing of things to come, the 2009 combined all the nominated songs into one performance medley. A.R. Rahman‘s audio/visual treat was forced to share space with John Legend, who performed as a fill-in for fellow nominee Peter Gabriel. Peter’s reason for not performing: it was insulting to perform only a snippet of a song.

Which one of these is your favorite memorable Oscar live moment?