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Donald William Johnston, Jr.

Died: January 7, 2002

Donald William Johnston, Jr. was born to Donald Johnston, Sr. and Betty Mank Johnston on January 29, 1944. He prepared for Yale at the Pingry School in Elizabeth, NJ and entered Yale in the fall of 1962. Don was a theory of music major and a Ranking Scholar ’62-’64, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. Don was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to study under Wolfgang Fortner at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg, Germany; after which he returned to Yale School of Music, where he received an M.M.A. in piano and composition, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 1969. Along the way, Don married Carol Lynn Davis in 1967. In 1976 Don married fellow Yale graduate Patricia Tunstall (YC ’74) and was blessed with 25 years of happy marriage and two sons, Evan and Adam.

Don’s greatest contribution to American music was his remarkable career as a musical director and conductor of major Broadway musicals. He arranged the dance music for 42nd Street in 1980 and was conductor and musical director for the revival in 1987-88. He orchestrated and wrote dance music for Marilyn: An American Fable. Don was musical director for a number of other important Broadway productions in the 1980s, including The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Cyrano de Bergerac, Much Ado About Nothing and other productions by the Royal Shakespeare Company in that same time period. Other productions in which he served as either music director, orchestrator, conductor or composer included A Broadway Musical (’78), But Never Jam Today (’79), Onward Victoria (’80), Copperfield (’81) and All’s Well That Ends Well (’83). Don’s recordings have included Superman: The Ultimate Collection, Titanic: The Ultimate Collection, Monster Mania, The Night of the Hunter, Strike Up the Band and 42nd Street (original and revival).

For the decade preceding his death, Don taught at the Trinity School in Manhattan, where he developed a sophisticated cabaret that became a standard of musical excellence for schools in the city. He composed chamber music and was the featured pianist at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York, where his performances filled the room. In fact, Don always filled the room, whether it was on a squash court, where he could make you feel you had entered a very small closet with a very large tiger, or a concert hall, where his exuberant energy could make you feel as if you might be in danger, even on the 25th row. He burned nuclear fuel, was capable of great irreverence and could be the epitome of the politically incorrect, but was loved and revered by virtually everyone who came into contact with him.

On the day following 9/11, Don was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and he succumbed on January 7, 2002, within three weeks of his 58th birthday. He was survived by his wife of eight months, Diane Johnston, two sons from his marriage to Patricia Tunstall: Evan and Adam, his father Donald Johnston, Sr., and his sister Suzanne Clark.