Tommy Johnson, an educator and “first-call” tuba player at major motion picture studios who recorded scores for more than 2,000 movies, died Oct. 16 from complications of cancer and kidney failure in Los Angeles. He was 71.
He received the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences’ Most Valuable Player Award for Tuba Player for seven consecutive years, from 1974-1980. In 1981, he was awarded the Academy’s “Emeritus Most Valuable Tuba Player.”
Johnson performed as tuba soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, in the Los Angeles Rams band in the 1960s and ’70s along with numerous orchestras. His recordings include “The Manhattan Transfer Meets Tubby the Tuba,” “Partita for Brass Quintet and Tape” (Lazarof) and “Jean-Pierre Rampal Plays Scott Joplin.” A native of Los Angeles, Johnson performed on scores for the films “Back to the Future,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Forrest Gump,” “The Godfather,” “The Matrix,” “Titanic” and more.
Johnson earned a bachelor’s of music degree from the University of Southern California, where he later taught tuba. He also taught music for many years at the junior high school level in the Los Angeles Unified School District. He did graduate work at USC and at California State University, Northridge. Johnson had been an adjunct professor in the UCLA Department of Music since 1973.
He is survived by his wife, Patricia; two sons; two daughters; a sister and nine grandchildren.