"Glory," the emotional musical centerpiece about the civil rights movement from Selma, bested "Everything Is Awesome" (The Lego Movie), "Grateful" (Beyond the Lights), "Lost Stars" (Begin Again) and "I'm Not Gonna Miss You" (Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me) to win Best Original Song at the Academy Awards.
As images of the civil rights movement and the march on Selma appeared in the background, Common and John Legend performed the song shortly before their win. A chorus joined the duo onstage, slowly marching in lockstep to simulate civil rights protestors. David Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King Jr. in the film, was brought to tears following the performance.
"We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say that Selma is now because the struggle for justice is right now," Legend said in his acceptance speech. "We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850. When people are marching with our song, we want to tell you, 'We are with you. We see you. We love you. And march on.'"
Common noted that the duo recently performed "Glory" on Selma, Alabama's Edmund Pettus Bridge, the structure that became a civil rights focal point after armed policemen attacked civil rights protestors in 1965. "This bridge was once a landmark of a divided nation, but now is a symbol for change," Common said. "The spirit of this bridge transcends race, gender, religion, sexual orientation and social status."
Legend explained the song's genesis at the Golden Globes last month, after the song beat out Lana Del Rey "Big Eyes" (Big Eyes), Patti Smith's "Mercy Is" (Noah), Sia's "Opportunity" (Annie) and Lorde's "Yellow Flicker Beat" (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1) to win Best Original Song, Motion Picture.
"Common called me and asked me to help him write this song," Legend said (Via Hitfix). "He threw out some title ideas and one of [them] was 'Glory.' As soon as I heard that word, it inspired me to write the chorus. I really thought about the music I grew up on, which was gospel music, and how important it was in the [civil rights] movement . . . So many of our great soul artists grew up in the church as I did and I think understanding that connection between the spiritual and the secular and putting that to music is an important part of what we do."
The duo have performed the song at many high-profile events in recent months, none more so than a stirring rendition at the Grammys earlier this month. Beyonce introduced the song — after an intro herself from Gwyneth Paltrow — with a booming, emotional performance of the gospel standard "Precious Lord, Take My Hand."
"This is what I live for," Common told Rolling Stone before the Grammys. "This is what I want to do as an artist. This is who I want to be as a person — to be able to speak up and say things that can impact people's lives, and things that can be inspiring to human beings."
In his Oscar preview, Rolling Stone's Peter Travers predicted that the song would win. "It brings the soul of Selma home," wrote Travers. "Its message is vital. Its creators are black. And it's time."
If history is any indicator, "Glory" can expect to see a big sales bump over the next few weeks. As Billboard recently noted, "Let It Go" from Frozen and Adele's "Skyfall" — the last two winners of the award — saw 42 percent and 88 percent sales increases, respectively.
Common and Legend were hardly the only performers of the night, though. Lady Gaga paid tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Sound of Music with a gorgeous medley of songs from the film, while Jennifer Hudson performed "I Can't Let Go" from Smash following the In Memoriam segment. Watch all the Best Original Song performances below.
Maroon 5, "Lost Stars" (From Begin Again)
Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine took center stage during the band's performance of "Lost Stars" from Begin Again. Flanked by guitarists James Valentine and Jesse Carmichael, Levine performed "Lost Stars" in a small, circular stage-within-a-stage. Wearing a jacket-less tuxedo with rolled-up shirt sleeves, Levine looked like a guest wrapping up a wedding, dropping to his left knee at one point while gripping the mic stand. By the time the rest of the band entered, he was back on his feet, emoting the lead song from the comedy-drama.
Tim McGraw, "I'm Not Gonna Miss You" (From Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me)
Gwyneth Paltrow took the stage to introduce Tim McGraw's "I'm Not Gonna Miss You" performance, setting a somber scene with the backstory of the Glen Campbell-penned tune. The last recorded song of the iconic entertainer's 60-year career was written during the earliest stages of his Alzheimer's disease, as he and co-writer Julian Raymond put to music both the dark cloud and silver lining of someday soon forgetting his loved ones. McGraw delivered the tearjerker alone — sitting on a stool without a guitar or visible backing band — and allowed the poignant lyrics to take center stage. The country superstar was handpicked by Campbell's family to fill his Oscar shoes, as the legendary singer is now in the later stages of the devastating illness.
Tegan and Sara/The Lonely Island, "Everything Is Awesome" (From The Lego Movie)
With help from the Lonely Island, Questlove, Will Arnett and Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh, Tegan and Sara turned a room full of adults in tuxedos and evening gowns into children with their ebullient performance of the popular Lego Movie track. After fittingly opening with an animated Lego chorus, the pop sister duo appeared on a purposely primitive stage made to look like a 10-year-old designed it. An assortment of real-life Lego favorites, including construction workers and cowboys, subsequently joined the Lonely Island, while Oprah Winfrey and Steve Carell received Lego-fied Academy Awards in the crowd.
Rita Ora, "Grateful" (From Beyond the Lights)
The Diane Warren-penned "Grateful" from romance Beyond the Lights was one of the more understated performances of the night. With no visible backing band, Rita Ora, clad in an elegant ball room gown and black gloves, performed a soaring version of the track on an elevated stage. A laser light show provided an illuminating background for the "I Will Never Let You Down" singer.
Common and John Legend, "Glory" (From Selma)
Additional reporting by Beville Dunkerley