Which singer first made the original version of the song “Mack the Knife” internationally popular?
“Mack the Knife" or "The Ballad of Mack the Knife" (German: "Die Moritat von Mackie Messer") was composed by Kurt Weill, lyrics by Bertolt Brecht for the 1928 premiere of the music drama, “The Threepenny Opera” (German: “Die Dreigroschenoper”). Kurt Gerron gave the first public performance of the song that came to be known as “Mack the Knife”. The song was a last-minute addition to the music drama demanded by Harald Paulsen, the actor who played Macheath (“Mack”), to introduce his sinister character.
The show was an international success and Gerron's name, voice and recordings became well known across Europe. The song has since become a standard recorded by many artists, including a U.S. and U.K. number one hit for Bobby Darin in 1959 and an earlier hit for Louis Armstrong in 1956.
Gerron, being Jewish, left Nazi Germany for Paris then Amsterdam in 1933. While in Amsterdam he turned down offers of work in Hollywood. After Germany invaded the Netherlands in 1940 Gerron was interned before being sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. There he was forced by the SS to stage a review in which he reprised “Mack the Knife”.
In 1944, Gerron was made to direct a Nazi propaganda film. Once filming was complete, Gerron and other artists were deported on the camp's final train to Auschwitz. Gerron and his wife were gassed immediately upon arrival, along with the film's almost entire performing entourage. The next day Himmler ordered the closure of the gas chambers.