• 2020 Opera Kansas Zepick Modern Opera Commission

  • 2018 OPERA America - Discovery Grant "That Hell-Bound Train"

  • 2018 Barlow Commission

  • 2018 Utah Opera "Golden Spike" Anniversary Commission

  • ASCAP/IAJE Commission Honoring the Duke Ellington Centennial

  • American Composers Forum - Continental Harmony ( 3 awards)

  • NEA Jazz Fellowship (jazz piano)

  • Copland House Residency

  • Dramatists Guild Foundation Fellow

  • American Music Center - Live Music for Dance

  • Barlow Endowment

  • Julius Hemphill Jazz Composers Award

  • Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition - finalist

  • PSC - CUNY Enhanced Grant - "A Gracious Plenty"


Lisa DeSpain is a Utah-native, New York City based composer of musical theatre, opera, and concert works known for her American sound.

She is the recipient of a 2018 Discovery Grant from OPERA America in support of her first opera, THAT HELL-BOUND TRAIN. She is the winner of the Opera Kansas 2020 Zepick Modern Opera Commission and the Utah Opera “Spike 150” Opera Commission (NO LADIES IN THE LADY’S BOOK,) with her librettist Rachel J. Peters. Lisa was also a Dramatists Guild Foundation Fellow and writer-in-residence at the Eugene O’Neil Musical Theatre Center for her original musical STORYVILLE created with Oscar Award-winning lyricist, Kristen Anderson-Lopez.

Commissioned by a wide range of ensembles, Lisa has composed works for The United States Air Force Band of Flight, the Cassatt String Quartet, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, Copland House/Hendrick Hudson High SchoolNew York Choral SocietyNew Haven Symphony Orchestra, pianist Scott Holden, and the womens choir Bella Voce.

Lisa collaborated with Memphis-born choreographer Donlin Foreman (Buglisi-Foreman Dance,) creating a tryptic of blues influenced dance score; Mean Ole' World, Rise & Fall , and Song with premieres at the New Victory Theatre (NYC), Joyce Theatre (NYC) and Jacobs Pillow.  

A force in the musical theatre education world, Lisa is the go-to arranger for Broadway educational choral works including HAMILTON, ONCE, AMERICAN IDIOT, NEXT TO NORMAL and more.  

Lisa was the first jazz composer awarded a Copland House Residency. Living and composing in Copland's home profoundly impacted her artistic mission. Inspired by Copland's legacy, Ms. DeSpain strives to explore and expand the boundaries of the American musical language, to create artistic works uniquely identifiable as American.

She is a Professor of Music & Theatre at LaGuardia Community College - CUNY (City University of New York)