The sun was shining brightly on Indigenous Peoples’ Day as I walked to Riverside Church in Harlem to attend and photograph the Celebration of Life of my friend, Micki Grant, who died on August 21 at the age of 92.
Micki’s family held the public memorial service for the trailblazing multi-award-winning composer, lyricist, playwright, librettist, singer, and actress at Riverside Church on October 11.
Micki was involved in the creation of some 18 theatrical productions, five of them on Broadway. With the long-running Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope, in which she also starred, she became the first woman to win a Grammy Award for the score of a Broadway musical. She also received Tony nominations for book, music, and lyrics. Another Grammy nomination for the score (with Alex Bradford) of Your Arms Too Short to Box with God followed, as well as another Tony nomination for the score of Working. When Your Arms Too Short… and It’s Nice to Be Civilized opened on subsequent evenings, Micki had the distinction of having two Broadway musicals running simultaneously. She wrote the music and contributed lyrics for J. E. Franklin’s Prodigal Daughter and contributed additional lyrics to Eubie! and Sweet & Hot: The Songs of Harold Arlen. For Jacques Brel Blues, she supplied the English lyrics for 20 songs by the Belgian songwriter. Along with …I Can’t Cope and Your Arms Too Short…, she had an extensive list of collaborations with the dynamic Emmy-winning director, Vinnette Carroll. She wrote songs for educational television’s Infinity Factory, and one of her several commercial jingles garnered the ad industry’s prestigious CLIO Award. Her creative body of work has been celebrated in two Off-Broadway musicals, Step Into My World at AMAS Repertory Theatre, and Looking Back at New Federal Theatre.
As an actress, Micki performed on and Off Broadway and in regional theatres around the country having made her Broadway debut as the ingenue in Langston Hughes’ Tambourines to Glory. In the late ‘90s, a two-year National tour of the play Having Our Say took her to more than 68 U.S. cities and to Johannesburg, South Africa, earning her the Helen Hayes Award for her performance as Sadie Delany. She also appeared in the CBS movie of the same name. The first African-American contract player on a daytime serial, she played the role of attorney Peggy Nolan on NBC’s “Another World” for seven years, and has had continuing roles on “Edge of Night” and “Guiding Light,” as well as guesting on “All My Children”. Directing credits include, among others, Ruby Dee’s Two Ha Ha’s and a Homeboy, starring Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee at Crossroads Theatre Company, and I Can’t Cope for the Apollo Modern Black Classic Series. A multitude of awards include the OBIE, NAACP Image, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, Audelco’s Outstanding Pioneer, AEA’s Paul Robeson, and the National Black Theatre Festival’s Living Legend and the Sidney Poitier Lifelong Achievement awards. Grant was also the 2012 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Dramatists Guild of America.
Micki’s family and many of her colleagues and friends traveled from across the country to participate in this glorious and joyful celebration of her life. The family held a private inurnment, officiated by Micki’s cousin, Robert Casteline, prior to the repast.
Micki is renown for many firsts in life, which continued through her death and final resting place as she is the first inurnment and committal in the brand new columbarium at The Riverside Church in New York. Additionally, Micki is the first to be placed in a niche dedicated completely to her. Because Micki has her own niche, she is also the first to have a personal inscription on the plaque, which is outside the church’s standard policy of having only the name and dates of birth and death on niche plaques. Below is a picture of the plaque with that statement, which simply reads, “Thank Heaven For You”, one of the songs from her Broadway musical, Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope.
A private repast, catered by Norma Jean Dardin of Spoonbread for 72 of Micki’s family members, closest colleagues and friends, was held before the official church ceremony in the Cathedral.
In addition to her family, the guest list which was limited due to strict Covid protocols included Richarda Abrams, Joan Allen, Cherine E. Anderson, Linda Armstrong, Melody Beal, Debra Ann Byrd, Debbi Blackwell Cook, Hope Clarke, Troy Cook, Norma Jean Dardin, Micki’s neighbors, Vickie and Frank de Falco, Leslie Dockery, Lawrence Evans, Tina Fabrique, George Faison, Yvette Heyliger, Gail Holgate-Nelson, Jackie Jeffries, Rev. Thomas Johnson, Sweet Honey in the Rock’s Carol Maillard and Louise Robinson, Dean Irby, Woodie King Jr., Julia Lema, Penny Leudtke, Ellyn Long Marshall, Carl Maultsby, REv. Melony McGant, Lori Minor, Barbara Montgomery, Maria Nelson, Micki’s caretaker, Sherry Reid, Chapman Roberts, Melida Skeete Smith, Brooke Staley, Lee Summers, Marie Thomas, Elizabeth Van Dyke, Dr. Gloria Van Scott, and C. Kelly Wright. Stephen Schwartz and Lin-Manuel Miranda, her collaborators on Working: The Musical, were also in attendance.
There was an open mic, hosted by Dean Irby, where guests could share their remembrances and pay tribute.
For many in the African American theatrical community, it was one of the first large gatherings post-pandemic, and Riverside Church had strict Covid protocols in place. The service and program, conceived and produced by Micki’s beloved cousins Daryl Walker and Dr. Kimberly Eberhardt Casteline, and co-directed by Chapman Roberts and Gary Holmes, was also live-streamed. Click here for the recording of the memorial service.
THE PRELUDE: Christopher Creaghan, Riverside Church Director of Music and Organist
THE PROCESSIONAL: “Beatitude I” – Matthew 5:3-9; Music by Micki Grant; Vocal Arrangements by Chapman Roberts
SONG OF CONTEMPLATION: “I Gotta Keep Moving'” by Micki Grant and performed by Nora Cole
WELCOME & INVOCATION: Reverend Dr. Debra Northern
SCRIPTURE READINGS: Old Testament – Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 read by Gail Nelson-Holgate
New Testament – 1Thessalonians 4:13-18 read by Reverend Robert Casteline
HYMN OF INSPIRATION: “Oh, That Will Be Glory”, words and music by Charles H. Gabriel and sung by Melida Skeete Smith
REFLECTIONS: Stephen Schwartz, Joan Allen, Dr. Woodie King, Jr., Dr. Glory Van Scott and Barbara Montgomery
SONG OF REFLECTION: “My Way” (Lyric adaptation by Chapman Roberts), Music by Jacques Revaux and Claude Thibault was sung by Lori Minor with piano accompaniment by Darnell White
FAMILY REMEMBRANCES: Reverend Dr. Robert Polk, Dr. Kimberly Eberhardt Casteline and Daryl Walker
REMARKS: Reverend Thomas Johnson
SONG OF COMFORT: Tina Fabrique brought down the house with her rendition of “His Eye in on the Sparrow”, words by Civilla D. Martin, Music by Charles H. Gabriel, accompanied by Carl Maultsby on piano.
LYRICAL TRIBUTE: A Montage of Selected Lyrics from Mick Grant’s Creative Works read by Leslie Dockery, Julia Lema, Norma Cole, Lee Summers, Lawrence Evans and Stephen Semien, compiled by Stephen Semien and Daryl Walker and stage by Stephen Semien
MEMORIAL CODA: Adrian Bailey and Chapman Roberts
DANCE TRIBUTE: Dyane Harvey’s dance to “So Little Time” and the reprise of Micki’s “I Gotta Keep Moving'” was a special highlight of the evening. She wove one of Micki’s favorite caftans into her dance. Micki’s spirit was ever present.
BENEDICTION: Reverend Dr. Debra Northern
RECESSIONAL: “Legacy” by Chapman Roberts, “Live The Dream-A Soulful Fanfare” by David Alan Bunn
Some of Micki’s sorors from The Delta Sigma Theta Sorority (Deltas), who also celebrated Micki earlier during the repast in a private ceremony in the columbarium.
More than 300 people came to celebrate Micki. Some of the people I caught up with after the service included Inga Ballard, Chandra Brown, Aisha de Haas and her brother, Darius de Haas, Charles Douglass, Perri Gaffney, Marjorie Johnson, Sirlouis Jones, Carmen Kelly, Harrison Lee, Debbie McIntyre, James Morgan, Julia Simpson, Tari Stratton, Vivenne Thomas, Ajene D. Washington, Stephanie Walden-Brooks, and Mitch Weiss.
Giving in memory of Micki Grant:
American Cancer Society
Micki, a cancer survivor , was an avid supporter of The American Cancer Society’s mission to save lives, celebrate lives, and lead the fight for a world without cancer. Your donation will help fund and provide the critical programs and services that people count on every day. Click this link to make a gift in memory of Micki.
League Of Professional Theatre Women
Micki was on of the trailblazers in the formation of the League of Professional Theatre Women, a membership organization for professional theater women representing a diversity of identities, backgrounds, and disciplines. The League’s programs and initiatives create community, cultivate leadership, and seek to increase opportunities and recognition for women in professional theatre. Donations in memory of Micki can be made here.
North Carolina Black Repertory Company, producers of the National Black Theatre Festival
Micki’s passion for, and devotion to, Blacks in theatre was insatiable. She was a longtime supporter of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company and the National Black Theatre Festival, having missed only one Festival since its inception in 1989. Contributions to the work of Black Theatre in memory of Micki can be made here.
Micki Grant Performing Arts Ministry at Canaan Baptist Church of Christ
For more than 45 years, Micki Grant was a dedicated disciple of Canaan Baptist Church of Christ in Harlem. In 2016, the Micki Grant Performing Arts Ministry (MGPAM) was established by Senior Pastor, Dr. Thomas D. Johnson. Donations in memory of Micki can be sent to the ministry c/o Canaan Baptist Church, 132 West 116th St., NY, NY 10026.
Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers, musicians and corporations. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman. She stars in and served as Executive Producer for the short independent films Hide and Seek, Balancing Act, Rom-Com Gone Wrong, Belongingness and When the World was Young (2021 DisOrient Film Audience Choice Award for Best Short Narrative). She is also the Executive Producer for The Cactus, The Language Lesson, The Writer and Cream and 2 Shugahs.
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