March 25, 1996 – Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz Win the Academy Award for “Colors of the Wind” and Best Original Musical or Comedy Score for Pocahontas.
“The emotion of the lyrics [for “Colors of the Wind”], as well as the emotion of the music, was very powerful, and also defined the movie, and what the movie was going to be about.” – James Pentecost, Producer of Pocahontas
On March 25, 1996, the 68th Academy Awards were held in Los Angeles, California. That night, Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz took home two Oscars for the Disney animated film Pocahontas: one for the score, and one for the song “Colors of the Wind.” Pocahontas was up against stiff competition: “Colors of the Wind” competed against “Dead Man Walking” from the movie of the same name, “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman” from Don Juan DeMarco, “Moonlight” from Sabrina, and “You’ve Got A Friend in Me” from a little film named Toy Story. The score was against the scores from Sabrina by John Williams, The American President by Marc Shaiman, Toy Story by Randy Newman, and Unstrung Heroes by Thomas Newman. It would be Alan Menken’s seventh and eighth Academy Award wins, and Stephen Schwartz’s first and second.
Menken remarked in a documentary about the process of the music for Pocahontas: “First of all, I went to another collaboration with Stephen Schwartz, and so the very first thing we wrote…[plays the underscore of the song]. We listened to a lot of Indian music from various tribes and came up with certain tonalities.” “Colors of the Wind” was one of the first songs that Menken and Schwartz wrote together, and it helped the rest of the staff understand the direction of the film, as it was written during early development. The song was a rare example of a balance between the lyrics and the music, with Schwartz remarking, “…maybe that’s why it’s so satisfying for both Alan and myself.”
“Colors of the Wind” was performed by Judy Kuhn in the film, and was released as a pop version for the end credits, sung by Vanessa Williams. The pop version reached a peak position of #4 on the U.S. Billboard Top 100. Menken has said about the song: “The song is a message song. It’s about respecting the environment and respecting our world, and it says, ‘Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?’ Can you see in the world around us all the rich array of blessings?”