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Marc Blitzstein

Born in Philadelphia into an affluent and politically radical Russian Jewish family, Blitzstein studied music in Europe with celebrated teachers like Nadia Boulanger. He settled in New York City where he composed music and penned criticism for the left-wing press before achieving fame for his controversial 1937 musical, The Cradle Will Rock. The play’s debut was postponed by its backer, the Federal Theater Project, accompanied by speculation that the play’s overtly pro-union themes were to blame. Defiant, Blitzstein and director Orson Welles staged the play independently, to broad acclaim. True to his spirit of political resistance, when Blitzstein was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1958, he admitted having been a Communist Party member but refused to “name names.” The composer achieved commercial and critical success with Regina (1949), an operatic adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s play, The Little Foxes, and his English translation of Bertolt Brecht’s and Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera, which produced the widely popular hit tune, “Mack the Knife.” In 1964, Blitzstein met a tragic end while vacationing in Martinique, the victim of a hate crime tied to his homosexuality.