From: Atlanta, Georgia. LA Opera: He has been commissioned to compose Fire and Blue Sky, an evening-length work for tenor Russell Thomas, which will premiere on June 6, 2024.

Emmy Award-winning composer, Joel Thompson (born in 1988) is a composer, pianist, conductor, and educator from Atlanta. He was one of the composers commissioned to write a new musical piece for the interactive digital performance Modulationco-presented by LA Opera in early 2021.

Joel Thompson’s compositions incorporate a wide range of influences into a sound that is uniquely his own, from Afro-Caribbean rhythms, to Black American jazz, gospel, and blues, to Rachmaninoff and Ravel. He wrote his acclaimed first opera, The Snowy Day, with librettist Andrea Davis Pinkney, based on the barrier-breaking 1963 Caldecott Medal-winning children’s book by Ezra Jack Keats. The opera was commissioned by Houston Grand Opera and premiered in 2021. In a historic first, HGO livestreamed the opera’s opening night, attracting viewers in 34 different countries. The Snowy Day was produced earlier this year by Portland Opera and will be seen next season at the Minnesota Opera. 

In 2022, he became Houston Grand Opera’s first-ever full-time composer-in-residence, a five-year residency. 

Earlier this year in Houston, he premiered his song cycle Dove Songs, based on poems by former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove, composed for soprano Renée Richardson.   

In addition to The Snowy Day, Thompson is best known for the choral work, Seven Last Words of the Unarmed, which commemorates the lives of seven Black men killed at the hands of police or authority figures. Seven Last Words was premiered in 2015 by the University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club and Dr. Eugene Rogers and won the 2018 American Prize for Choral Composition; Thompson and Rogers won an Emmy Award for a documentary about the work in 2017. In 2021 Thompson premiered a new work that sets the writings of James Baldwin to music at the Colorado Music Festival. 

Thompson’s works have been performed by esteemed ensembles such as the New York Philharmonic, Kansas City Symphony, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta Master Chorale, Los Angeles Master Chorale, and EXIGENCE. He recently joined the Metropolitan Opera/Lincoln Center Theater New Works commissioning program, established to foster leading talents in the field.