John Ashton Thomas, Conductor and Orchestrator on ‘Black Panther,’ Dies at 60

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John Ashton Thomas, the British composer, arranger, conductor and orchestrator who contributed to the Oscar-winning score of Black Panther and worked on more than 160 other films, has died. He was 60.

Thomas’ death Oct. 4 was announced by music publisher Manners McDade and Trinity Laban, the London college where he had taught since 1992 as its composition department’s longest-serving member. The cause of death was not immediately available.

An accomplished pianist with a background in jazz, Thomas collaborated with composer John Powell — his onetime Trinity College of Music classmate — for two decades on nearly four dozen films, including How to Train Your Dragon (2010), for which Powell received an Oscar nomination for best score.

The pair also teamed on the Paul Greengrass-directed The Bourne Supremacy (2004), United 93 (2006) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007); three Ice Age films and two Rio films helmed by Carlos Saldanha; Happy Feet and Kung Fu movies; and The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002), The Italian Job (2003), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018), among other efforts.

Thomas partnered with composer James Newton Howard on films including The Last Airbender (2010), The Bourne Legacy (2012) and installments of the Hunger Games, Fantastic Beasts and Maleficent franchises.

More recently, he worked on Captain Marvel (2019), Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019), The Call of the Wild (2020), The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021) and Operation Mincemeat, set for release next year.

He also wrote arrangements for the Oscar ceremony for several years.

Trinity Laban and @MannersMcDade are saddened to announce the death of our friend, colleague and TL alum, composer John Ashton Thomas

— Trinity Laban (@TrinityLaban) October 12, 2021

Born on March 28, 1961, in Plymouth, Devon, England, Thomas as a youngster was a chorister at Exeter Cathedral, then studied at Trinity College and at Goldsmiths College at the University of London.

He served as an orchestrator on The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) and Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000) before working with Powell for the first time on Rat Race (2001).

He and composer Ludwig Göransson collaborated on Tropic Thunder (2008), then reunited for Black Panther (2018) and Trolls World Tour (2020).

He recently conducted for Christine McVie, Diana Ross, Michael Buble and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

In 2004, Thomas was awarded an honorary associateship from the Royal Academy of Music, where he had taught jazz aural and transcription before leaving to pursue opportunities in Hollywood.

“As a wonderful human being and mentor to aspiring young artists, John possessed the rarest kind of passion, generosity and skill from which all of us can only feel supremely lucky to have benefitted,” the school’s head of jazz, Nick Smart, said in a statement.

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