Micki Grant, Groundbreaking Broadway Composer, Dies at 92
Micki Grant, who in the early 1970s became the first woman to write the book, music and lyrics of a Broadway musical, “Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t …
Micki Grant, who in the early 1970s became the first woman to write the book, music and lyrics of a Broadway musical, “Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope,” a soulful, spirited exploration of Black life, died on Saturday in Manhattan. She was 92.
Her death, at Mount Sinai Morningside hospital, was announced by Joan Allen, a family spokeswoman.
Ms. Grant, an actress, composer, playwright and musician, had developed “Don’t Bother Me” for two years with the director Vinnette Carroll, taking it to small theaters in New York, Philadelphia and Washington before opening on Broadway in April 1972.
She would also be known for her work on another Broadway musical, “Your Arms Too Short to Box With God,” and for her seven years on the NBC soap opera “Another World.”
Set in New York City, “Don’t Bother Me” explored topics like ghetto life, Black power, feminism and student protests with an all-Black cast performing songs — all by Ms. Grant — that drew from rock, jazz, funk, blues calypso and other musical genres.
Ms. Grant recalled in 2018 that she and Ms. Carroll had wanted audiences of the musical to recognize the similarities among races, not the differences.
“And I think that’s expressed when you find out in the end that the audience is willing to reach out and take someone’s hand,” she said in an interview with The New York Amsterdam News. “Some people in the audience never held the hand of a person of a different race before, and all of the sudden, they’re holding another person’s hand.”
The musical got rave reviews, including one from Clive Barnes of The New York Times, who wrote: “It is the unexpected that is the most delightful. Last night at the Playhouse Theater a new musical came clapping, stomping and stamping in. It is fresh, fun and Black.”
The show received Tony nominations for best musical, best original score, best book (also by Ms. Grant) and best direction. It won a Grammy for best musical theater album, making Ms. Grant the first female composer to win in that category.
“Don’t Bother Me” was revived in 2016 as a concert performance by the York Theater Company in Manhattan and two years later by the Encores! Off-Center series at New York City Center, directed by Savion Glover.
James Morgan, York’s producing artistic director, said in a phone interview that Ms. Grant had “wanted a say in everything and would say, “No, that’s not how that goes.’ I’d tell her, ‘We want this to be your version of the show.’”
He had been hoping to stage a full off-Broadway production of “Don’t Worry,” he said, but couldn’t raise the money. “I so wanted it for her, because there’s still a big audience for it,” he said.
Ms. Grant was born Minnie Louise Perkins on June 30, 1929, in Chicago to Oscar and Gussie (Cobbins) Perkins. Her father was a barber and a self-taught pianist, her mother, a saleswoman for Stanley Home Products.
Minnie was smitten by theater and music at a young age. At 8 she played the Spirit of Spring, touching flowers to bring them to life, in a community center production. She began taking piano and double-bass lessons at about the same age.
And, she recalled in an interview with The Times in 1972: “I was busy writing poetry and walking around the house reciting it. My family always listened and said what nice poetry it was.”
Ms. Grant began writing music at 14 or 15 and acting in community theater at 18. She studied at the Chicago School of Music and later attended the University of Illinois, Chicago.
But one semester shy of graduating, she left to perform in Los Angeles, where, in 1961, she appeared in a musical revue, “Fly Blackbird,” a social satire about the evils of segregation. She moved with the show to its off-Broadway production in 1962.
By then, she had changed her name to Micki.
Ms. Grant made her Broadway debut a year later in a supporting role in “Tambourines to Glory,” a short-lived “gospel singing play” — written by the poet Langston Hughes with music by Jobe Huntley — about two female street preachers in Harlem. It also starred