Oscar’s New Sound: Pharrell Williams and Sheila E. Lend a Beat

Hip-hop producer and rapper Pharrell Williams of N.E.R.D. joined composer and Oscar alum Hans Zimmer in the official house band of the 2012 Academy Awards. Superstar drummer Sheila E., best known for her tenure with Prince, and Oscar-winning Indian composer A.R. Rahman contributed some keys and vocals. The ceremony had the same regal, cinematic sound it always has, but with a little spice thrown in. For an awards show whose voters are 94 percent white and 77 percent male -- and whose median age is 62 -- any element of diversity is welcome.

[Related: Oscars Tap Zimmer, Williams as Music Consultants]

Relegated to two of the Kodak Theater's balconies, the interesting combination of star musicians played during the commercial breaks along with the orchestra below the stage. Sheila E. and Pharrell's drumming (sometimes two kits at the same time) broke up the usual soft melodies with funky beats, giving the Oscars a much-needed sound update.

Twitter was abuzz about the attractive violinist in the balcony neighboring Sheila and Pharrell's setup. Her name is Ann Marie Calhoun, a half-Chinese, half-"hillbilly" native of Virginia. She's also an Oscar alum: Her work with Zimmer for the "Sherlock Holmes" score received an Oscar nod in 2009. Calhoun also plays violin for the Super Heavy, whose official membership includes Mick Jagger, Dave Stewart, Joss Stone, Damien Marley, and Rahman.

With the palpable lack of music performances at the Oscars this year, save Grammy-winner Esperanza Spaulding's lovely singing during the "In Memoriam" segment, beefing up the house band with some recognizable talent was a crucial move for the academy. The nominees for best original song generally perform during the ceremony, but perhaps bossa nova legend Sergio Mendes and comic musician Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords don't carry the weight of previous performers like Paul McCartney, Beyoncé, Björk, and 3-6 Mafia. It was a sore loss for the Oscars to pass up an opportunity to showcase a Muppets performance, as Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog's appearance were some of the most popular trends on Twitter.

[Related: The Muppets Make It to the Oscars]

Fortunately the house band didn't fade into the background like a long acceptance speech: In an endearing musician-to-musician gesture, the winner for best original score, Ludovic Bource, thanked the band, Sheila E. in particular, when he accepted the Oscar for his work on "The Artist." With any luck, a fun musical lineup like this will join the awards ceremony again next year.

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