Music in Hollywood is basically limited to background scores, except of course, musicals, and we do not have much of them these days. Background scores themselves are mostly acoustic-based tracks, with a smattering of vocals. Either way, singers and musicians have always had a very powerful role in movies since a long time, albeit their contribution is recognised with a slight lag. Over time, many singers and musicians have taken a stab at acting, though only a few have stood out well enough in both, their vocal renditions and character portrayals, and we shall focus on such a worthier breed of men and women…
Nobody comes close to Bing Crosby. By the 1930s, he was the undisputed champion singer in America, charming the listeners with his soft baritone. By the end of his career, the man had a whopping 383 chart singles to his name, the most fondly remembered of which is possibly White Christmas. It is difficult to quantify his achievement in the musical field, as much of the modern data-acquisitions and tabulations came into being much later, though his level of success was easily unprecedented. Quite the same was the state of his acting career. He is reported to be the third most popular actor of all times, after Clark Gable and John Wayne. He won his first Academy Award for Best Actor for playing the cheerful Father Charles O’Malley in Going My Way, and was nominated again for the sequel The Bells of Saint Mary. In 1954, his role of the washed-up and moody theatre star Frank Elgin in The Country Girl gave him his third Academy Award nomination. A feat that is quite remarkable in our generation as well – when sequels normally wither by the third instalment, Crosby co-starred with Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour in seven Road To musical comedies.
‘Frankie’ can be safely credited with some of the best works in the world of music and movies alike. Tracks such as All or Nothing At All, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, How Do You Keep The Music Playing, Something Stupid and many, many more are held in the same class of awe as his acting skills as the struggling drug addict in The Man With The Golden Arm, the self-doubting Captain Marco in The Manchurian Candidate and perhaps his best-ever turn as Private Maggio in From Here to Eternity, for which he won the Academy Award for the Best Supporting Actor in 1953. Ironically, the Grammy Awards came into being after the world had already witnessed the peak of Sinatra’s singing prowess. Despite this, his career abounded in thirty Grammy nominations, of which he won eleven.
A well-deserved multi-hyphenate, Barbara Streisand is one of the few actors who have won the Academy Awards (2), the Grammy Awards (8), the Emmy Awards (5) and the Tony Awards (there are only 14 other such superhumans in the universe to have won the EGOT). Besides having started and flourished as a brilliant singer with a commanding yet soulful voice, Streisand created a wave with Funny Girl, playing the film star Fanny Brice and went on to win the Oscar for the Best Actress in 1969 (shared with Katherine Hepburn). Her next Academy Award came for the Best Original Song ‘Evergreen’ in A Star is Born, which has since become her biggest hit. She has featured in 20 odd movies – most notably The Way We Were and Yentl, and has continued her streak in the more recent Meet the Fockers and Little Fockers.
She did lose out in American Idol (and that raised quite a storm), but Jennifer Hudson has come back stronger than that season’s winner. And she has a Grammy and an Oscar to prove that. Hudson starred as Effie White – the talented yet unlucky singer of the girl-band ‘The Dreams’, in her debut movie Dreamgirls alongside Jamie Foxx and Beyonce, where she produced an absolutely hair-raising, smashing rendition of ‘And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going’. That role won her the Academy Award for the Best Supporting Actress in 2006. Her other debut venture – the album Jennifer Hudson – won the Grammy Award in 2008. Hudson is yet to leave a long-lasting impression both in the annals of music and the screen, but if her performance in Dreamgirls is anything to go by, this is one artist worth watching out for.
A co-star of Hudson’s in Dreamgirls, Beyonce Knowles, or plain Beyonce to you and me, has decidedly had a very successful turn as an R&B singer and is still gong remarkably strong (and even that is an understatement). Till date, she has won a staggering 17 Grammy Awards, and holds the record for winning the maximum Grammys (6) as a female artist on a single night (this was in 2010, and was equalled by Adele in 2012). Besides that, Beyonce played the role of the shy young singer Deena Jones in Dreamgirls, which earned her a Golden Globe nomination for the Best Actress in 2007. She followed her performance with roles in The Pink Panther, Obsessed and the critically acclaimed Cadillac Records.
Now before you raise your arms in protest, let me remind you of his not-so-bad stints in In Time, Inside Llewyn Davis and the surprisingly stellar portrayal of the Napster-founder Sean Parker in The Social Network. Timberlake’s musical career has been understandably and relatively more spotless and well-directed than his acting projects. But he has been one of those artists who basically shelved one career to progress on another; Timberlake’s music has long been amiss (Justin the singer and heartthrob resurfaced only last year) as he went about working on movies like The Social Network, Bad Teacher, Friends With Benefits and In Time. Besides The Social Network, none of the projects have been particularly classy, but one has to give it to the singer’s dogged perseverance. He got to play minor, yet significant roles in the Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams and John Goodman starrer Trouble with the Curve, and the recent Inside Llewyn Davis, besides featuring a rumoured role in a future Warren Beatty project; all pointing towards his slowly building credibility.
Now what wouldn’t we give for a fraction of their talent, eh!?