Born in Somerset, NJ, on May 30, 1925, he began taking piano lessons when he was eight. He attended Rutgers University, and received his B.A. in 1958 and his M.A. in 1960. He started a doctoral program at Columbia University, but left to grab the opportunity of writing the dance music for a Broadway musical based on James Thurber's "Fables for Our Time and Famous Poems Illustrated."
He met Robert Britten at the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop. Together they began work on the show that would become Raisin. It premiered May 30, 1973, at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., and moved to Broadway at the 46th Street Theatre that Oct. 18, later transferring to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in early 1973. In total, it ran 847 performances and won a Tony for Best Musical. The score was also nominated.
He would never achieve a success as big, but continued to compose over the next three decades, often to admiring reviews. His other works included Petticoat Lane, loosely based on the novella "King of Schnorrers" by Israel Zangwill. Mr. Woldin wrote the music, lyrics and book on the show. It premiered at the George Street Playhouse in 1978, and moved to the Harold Clurman Theatre Off-Broadway in 1979, and then to Broadway's The Playhouse, where, under the name King of Schnorrers, it ran 63 performances.
The Prince and the Pauper, which he wrote with Marc Elliot, played at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre in 2001, and then the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul.
Lorenzo, a musical based on Mozart librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, premiered at the George Street Playhouse in 1982. It was co-written by Richard Engquist, as was Little Ham, a musical based on Langston Hughes' play of the same name. It, too, premiered at the George Street Playhouse, in 1987, and would also play at the Westport Country Playhouse. It became a critical hit when it premiered Off-Broadway at the John Houseman Theatre in 2002.
In 1992, a concert version of Jonah, about the prophet from the Old Testament, was presented at the Merkin Concert Hall. It would later be produced at the York Theatre in 2004.