Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death

Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death (Tunes from Blackness) is a musical with a book, music, and lyrics by Melvin Van Peebles. The musical is based on three of Van Peebles' earlier albums, Br'er Soul, Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death and As Serious as a Heart-Attack.

The musical is comprised of a series of 19 politically outspoken, darkly comic, and sexually charged musical monologues that explore the negative aspects of African-American street life and the ghetto experience. Each character has a painful story to tell in funk, soul, jazz and blues-inflected songs. The innovative piece, presented in a confrontational, "in your face" style, is a precursor to choreopoem, spoken word, and rap music. It "contributed to the growing black presence on Broadway.

In 1970, Van Peebles decided to transform a trio of albums he had recorded between 1968 and 1970 into a musical. According to Van Peebles, "The songs were mirroring the incidents that were happening in the streets." Van Peebles marketed the musical to black audiences in churches "all up and down the fu**ing East Coast. Ministers have congregations, and the congregations would come with busloads of people."


The piece was first produced by Black Arts/West at Sacramento State College in Sacramento, California in 1970. After ten previews, the Broadway production, directed by Gilbert Moses, opened on October 20 1971 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, then transferred to the Ambassador, for a total run of 325 performances. The cast included Bill Duke, Albert Hall, Garrett Morris and Beatrice Winde. Phylicia Rashad joined the cast in 1972.

An original cast recording was released by A&M Records.

In 2004, Classical Theatre of Harlem staged a revival directed by Alfred Preisser, choreographed by Bruce Heath, and featuring Ralph Carter. In 2006, it was presented as theatre in the round in T New York, a small Manhattan cabaret, on weekends only. The production is scheduled for a 2007 tour of the U.S. East Coast.


In a poor Black neighborhood, nameless characters rail against a general malaise called "the Man." Each one begins his or her musical rant with the repetition of one or two signature phrases. They sing of their their frustrations, fears, regrets and pain. The drama stems from the characters' words about their daily lives. Act I follows a "normal" day in the ghetto, but Act II graphically depicts a particularly violent day, in which looting and several brutal killings occur. The characters include a blind beggar, a Malcolm X lieutenant, a pimp, prostitutes, a drag queen, a lesbian, looters, lovers, junkies, a wino, a bag lady, corrupt cops, a disgruntled postal worker, sweatshop workers, and a death row prisoner. The work begins with the "Star Spangled Banner" and ends with the accusatory "Put a Curse on You."

Song list

  • Just Don't Make No Sense
  • Coolest Place in Town
  • You Can Get Up Before Noon Without Being a Square
  • Mirror Mirror on the Wall
  • Come Raising Your Leg on Me
  • You Gotta Be Holdin Out Five Dollars on Me
  • Sera Sera Jim
  • Catch That on the Corner
  • The Dozens
  • Funky Girl on Motherless Broadway
  • Tenth and Greenwich
  • Heh Heh (Chuckle) Good Mornin' Sunshine
  • You Ain't No Astronaut
  • Three Boxes of Longs Please
  • Lily Done the Zampoughi Every Time I Pulled Her Coattail
  • I Got the Blood
  • Salamaggi's Birthday
  • Come on Feet Do Your Thing
  • Put a Curse on You

Awards and nominations

  • Tony Award for Best Musical (nominee)
  • Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical (nominee)
  • Tony Award for Best Original Score (nominee)
  • Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Winde, nominee)
  • Tony Award for Best Scenic Design (nominee)
  • Tony Award for Best Lighting Design (nominee)
  • Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical (nominee)
  • Theatre World Award (Winde, winner)
  • Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Set Design (winner)
  • Drama Desk Award for Most Promising Book (winner)
  • Drama Desk Award for Most Promising Director (winner)



External links

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