German composer Kurt Weill was born to a religious Jewish family in the city of Dessau. As the son of a Cantor, he began studying music by the age of 12, and pursued an education at the conservatory by the time he was 18.
Studying in Berlin, Weill gave piano lessons and taught music theory as a means to subsistence, while also beginning to compose. He also wrote musical reviews for local radio stations. But it was his acquaintance with dramatist George Kaiser that marked the beginning of his real success; Weill's compositions tended more towards musical theater and vocal cabaret style music.
Weill's Three Penny Opera (1928), a collaboration with Bertolt Brecht, is perhaps his best known work, featuring his most famous song "Mack the Knife". Though their partnership was short-lived, Weill and Brecht both faced persecution from the Nazi's due to the communist themes in their work.
Weill fled to the U.S. in 1933, settling in New York with his wife, vocalist Lotte Lenya. In the following years, he established a successful career on Broadway and also worked in Hollywood. In 1943 Weil wrote the music for the pageant “We Will Never Die”, written by Ben Hecht and organized by Peter Bergson. The spectacular event raised awareness of the Holocaust through performances at New York’s Madison Square Garden, Boston Garden, Chicago Stadium, Washington, D.C.’s Constitution Hall and the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.
Kurt Weill suffered a fatal heart attack in 1950. Sixty years after his passing, his music has been performed by a wide range of artists including Louis Armstrong, The Doors, and PJ Harvey.