Sam Ashworth interview: ‘One Night in Miami’ songwriter
Songwriter Sam Ashworth has “had a hard time not writing about hopeful things” over the last few years of social and political strife. He brought that hopefulness to “Speak Now,” the original song he co-wrote with Leslie Odom Jr. for the film “One Night in Miami.” Now they’re nominated for Best Original Song at the Oscars for their composition. Watch our exclusive video interview with Ashworth above.
“It overwhelmed me with hope, it overwhelmed me with sadness, it overwhelmed me with a sense of urgency,” Ashworth explains about the emotional impact the film had on him. “Leslie and I both came at the beginning of the process with that mindset of just wanting to be very respectful to the work that had already been done.” Collaborating with Odom over FaceTime due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ashworth “wrote and rewrote four or five songs before we ended up where we got to with ‘Speak Now.’ It was just crucial to me that the vibe of the music felt right, that the theme of our lyric was right, and it wasn’t taking away” from the film.
But while Odom plays legendary singer and civil rights activist Sam Cooke in the film, “Speak Now” wasn’t intended as a direct homage: “Sam Cooke was certainly on my mind and in my heart after watching the film, and I have been a fan for a long time already. We didn’t set out to feed off any particular influences. I think we were naturally inspired by the time period.” Ashworth also felt a larger “responsibility to put hopeful music out there … We all feel powerless most of the time, and so I think we all in our own ways try to figure out how can we be a part of change, how can we be a part of uplifting our neighbors, our brothers, our sisters.”
Ashworth’s recognition is also serendipitous because he finds himself nominated against H.E.R. for the original song “Fight for You” from “Judas and the Black Messiah.” They’ve worked together as well: Ashworth earned 2020 Grammy nominations for Album of the Year (“I Used to Know Her”) and Song of the Year (“Hard Place”) for their work together. Now they’re both first-time Oscar contenders. “After we all found out we were nominated we were all texting each other, and it’s just beautiful, friendly, and uplifting. We’re all just kind of stunned that we’re in this position together,” he says. “I am just as excited for them as I am for Leslie and I. It’s just that cool and that different. I didn’t ever in a million years expect or even dream that I’d be nominated for an Oscar.”