vy higgeinsen*Multiple award-winning producer, playwright, author, media personality and philanthropist, Vy Higgenson, is a proud Harlemite and New Yorker.

Vy is best-known as a co-creator, producer and director of the longest-running black off-Broadway musical, “Mama, I Want to Sing,” and its subsequent brand extensions: “Mama, I Want to Sing: Part II,” “Born to Sing: Mama 3,” “Mama, I Want to Sing: The Whole Story, “Mama, I Want to Sing: The Movie” and, most recently, “Mama, I Want to Sing: The Next Generation.”  The “Mama” brand has toured internationally to London’s West End, Japan, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Italy and throughout the Caribbean.

Vy is the founder of the Mama Foundation for the Arts and its Gospel for Teens program as well as the newly formed Harlem Records USA.  This year, Vy was the recipient of the Thomas A. Dorsey Most Notable Achievement Award at the 2012 Stellar Gospel Music Awards.  In 2011, she was the subject of a “60 Minutes” special on CBS.  She was New York City’s first African American female radio personality in a prime-time slot on WBLS-FM, and WRKS-FM.  At WWRL-AM she became the first black woman to host a New York radio morning show.

Inside Broadway
Congratulations on another successful run of “Mama, I Want to Sing: The Next Generation.”  What is the difference between “The Next Generation” and the original production?

Vy Higginsen
The difference is that the cast of “Mama I Want to Sing: The Next Generation” includes members of Gospel for Teens, a program of the Mama Foundation for the Arts.  The music has been tweaked for today’s audiences and the star of the show is directly related to the story. My daughter Ahmaya Knoelle Higginsen is playing the role of her aunt, Doris Troy, who recorded the pop soul classic “Just One Look.” This production has the same passion and excitement of the original production and the message is in the music.

Inside Broadway
Your daughter, Ahmaya Knoelle, who stars in “The Next Generation,” is a great talent with an incredible voice and range.  When did you recognize her talent and interest in pursuing a career in music and theatre?

Vy Higginsen
From the day she was born, Knoelle traveled nationally and internationally with the cast of “Mama I Want to Sing.” One day in Greece, when she was four years old, she told her dad she wanted to sing.  She sang the finale, “This Little Light Of Mine,” in front of 7,000 people and the audience went wild.

Inside Broadway
The various productions of “Mama…” have traveled extensively internationally (Europe, Japan, Caribbean, etc.). What has that experience been like and what impact do you feel the production had on international audiences?  To date, how many performances has the “Mama” franchise completed worldwide?

Vy Higginsen
I was surprised by how audiences that didn’t speak English were still penetrated by the emotion, the message, and the power of “Mama I Want To Sing.”  In Japan, Yugoslavia, in every country, people laughed and cried and clapped their hands in the same places they did in New York City.  We’ve performed about 5,000 shows worldwide.

Inside Broadway
Tell us the concept behind “Sing Harlem Sing,” currently running at the Dempsey Theatre.

Vy Higginsen
The radio station that presents “Sing Harlem Sing!” is the same station that presents “Mama I Want To Sing.” This station is where the music comes alive. The station is celebrating its 50th anniversary and is looking back in time at the music. So it’s a trip from Saturday night to Sunday morning. It’s a story of people in song through words and music. It shows the genius of African-American music in that time period.

Inside Broadway
Your husband and partner, Ken Wydro, is the director and co-writer of the “Mama” brand.  He is also a producer for various Broadway shows.  Which shows has he been associated with?

Vy Higginsen
Ken has produced several Broadway plays including, August Wilson’s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” “The Mountaintop,” “The Best Man,” and “Evita.”

Inside Broadway
Please tell our readers the purpose and goals of the Mama Foundation.  What are some of the program’s initiatives?      

Vy Higginsen
The purpose of the Mama Foundation for the Arts is to restore Harlem to its prominence as an entertainment capital of the world and provide a destination to serve musical and theatrical needs locally, nationally and internationally with our productions, “Mama I Want To Sing,” “Sing Harlem Sing!,” and our Gospel for Teens program. The goal is to save the music and pass it on so the music never dies and we never forget who we are musically and where we come from.  Gospel for Teens is a program that serves students ages 13-19. Members of Gospel for Teens are featured in “Mama I Want To Sing: The Next Generation” and they have also performed at numerous special events including, The Stellar Awards, the Congressional Black Caucus and New York Fashion Week.

Inside Broadway
Is there one experience or person you can identify as having had the greatest influence on your career?

Vy Higginsen
Two people have had the greatest influence on my career. First is my sister, Doris Troy, who is the inspiration for “Mama I Want To Sing.” She set an example for me of how to work hard and use my creativity. Second is Frankie Crocker for hiring me as a radio personality. It was wonderful to watch something small grow into a profitable asset. The radio days were glory days.

Inside Broadway
You also have a record label, Harlem Records USA.  Recently, I know, you have been in the studio with Cissy Houston.  What type of project is she recording?  What other artists do you plan to release on Harlem Records USA?

Vy Higginsen
Cissy Houston’s four song gospel EP “Walk On By Faith” was just released for Mother’s Day. We started recording the project in January 2011. We wanted to  preserve the sound of authentic gospel singing and inspire young people to remember the power of traditional gospel music.  The songs she chose and the word she sings have the power to transform and elevate and inspire your thinking. I loved working on this project with my friend.  I love working on music that takes you somewhere.  We will release Gospel for Teens music within a month and also music from the stars of “Mama I Want To Sing: The Next Generation”—Ahmaya Knoelle Higginson and Elijah Ahmad Lewis.

Inside Broadway
Tell us what’s next for you.

Vy Higginsen
Books, movies, television and professional speaking engagements. Right now I am focusing on the launch of Harlem Records.

Inside Broadway  
Tell us one thing people would be surprised to know about you.

Vy Higginsen
I get my inspiration from looking at the horizon.

See “Mama, I Want to Sing: The Next Generation” and “Sing Harlem Sing!” at the Dempsey Theatre, (located at 127 West 127th Street, Harlem), New York, New York.  For more information, please visit:  www.mamafoundation.org.

Gwendolyn Quinn is veteran media specialist with a career spanning 20 years. She is the founder of the African American Public Relations Collective (AAPRC) and the publisher and editorial director of Global Communicator, an e-publication for public relations, marketing, journalists and communications professionals. She is a contributor to Souls Revealed (Souls of My Sisters/Kensington) and featured in Handle Your Entertainment Business (Grand Central/Warner Publishing). She is a contributor to the forthcoming book, Souls of My Faithful Sisters (Souls of My Sisters/Kensington).  Contact her at [email protected].

gwendolyn quinn