Four-time Academy Award nominee Sting performed “The Empty Chair,” which he wrote with J. Ralph for the documentary film Jim: The James Foley Story, at Sunday night’s Oscars. The somber tune was also featured in a different key on the rocker’s most recent album, 57th & 9th.
Sting performed the song solo with just his guitar and a stark backdrop with a poignant quote from Foley that read, “If I don’t have the moral courage to challenge authority, we don’t have journalism.”
“Chair” is one of the five Best Original Song nominees being performed throughout the evening. It is nominated alongside “Can’t Stop The Feeling” from Trolls (performed by Justin Timberlake) “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana (performed by Auli’i Cravalho, who voiced the main character, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote and produced the song), and “City of Stars” and “Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” which are both from La La Land and performed by the film’s costar John Legend.
Foley tells the story of journalist James Foley, who was killed by ISIS in 2014. Sting has said in interviews that seeing the film and then writing for it was extremely painful. “I said, ‘I don’t think I can,'” he told Deadline. “‘It’s too devastating, and I’m not sure how a song could possibly end that thing. I don’t know what that song is, no idea.’ I took the movie back home, showed it to my wife who was equally devastated by it. Then we had dinner with my family, and then I just had this idea of a family sitting around a table, and someone was missing, and how would that feel? What would you do, have an empty chair waiting for him?”