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MAMA to nourish, to encourage & fine tune

FOUNDATION to educate, to provide experience & access to opportunity 

Mission
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Our Mission

Mama Foundation for the Arts’ mission is to make a joyful noise, to uplift the Black musical treasures of Gospel, jazz and R&B, and to heal and inspire through the power of collective music-making.

Our Vision

Establish Mama Foundation as a thriving and sustainable Harlem legacy institution where an intergenerational and interracial community is invited to Be Seen and Be Heard in the fullness of their experience – their voices, their stories, and their hearts.

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Vision

Our Core Values

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HARLEM LEGACY

We are a standard bearer of the cultural and musical inheritance of Black Excellence for which Harlem is internationally known.

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BLACK MUSICAL EXCELLENCE

We centralize and amplify Black musical artforms - Gospel, jazz, R&B - and Black voices as essential to the American cultural experience.

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INDIVIDUAL POSSIBILITIES

We expand the expectation of potential by offering access, opportunities, training, and experience in the professional musical/theatrical field.

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COMMUNAL BELONGING

We hold space for an intergenerational community to connect, excel, heal and share themselves through music.

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COLLECTIVE HEALING

We are a catalyst for positive community transformation that begins with the promise that you will be seen, and you will be heard.

Core Values
Team

Meet the Team

Ahmaya Knoelle Higginson

Vy Higginsen

Ken Wydro

Artistic Director

Founder & Executive Director

Creative Director

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Shamim Arman

Controller

Du'Bois A'Keen

Associate Director of Music and Programs

Dariana Ayala

Assistant to Executive Director

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Sophia Cohen Smith

Development Manager 

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Debra Fields 

Archive and Programs Volunteer

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Munir Haider

Financial Associate 

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Alexa Joy 

Associate Director of Performance and Programs

Don Holder

Technical Director

Bishop Kevin McKoy

Facilities Manager

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Allison Simmons

Communications and Development Associate

Nolan Padilla

Social Media Strategist 

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Ron Stokes

Deputy Director

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Logan Treadaway

Associate Director of Development and Communications

A Brief History 

of Mama Foundation for the Arts

Vy Higginsen's name has been associated with Gospel, jazz, and R&B music for years. As one of New York City's premiere radio disc jockeys, she has built a solid reputation for identifying good music and developing a sound that resonates with music lovers. This knack led her and her producing partner, Ken Wydro, to create the legendary musical, Mama I Want to Sing in 1983. Mama was an international hit and is one of the longest running musicals in the history of American theater. 

Many consider the success of Mama to be the start of Mama Foundation. However, it wasn't until Vy's own daughter's school cut arts programming from the curriculum that she decided to make a change. Inspired by world tours of Mama I Want to Sing in Europe, the Caribbean, Japan, and the United States, where the music liberated children on the margins, Vy Higginsen created Mama Foundation for the Arts to help re-establish Harlem as an artistic and cultural centerpiece of the world. 

In the years since, the Foundation has expanded to offer a robust slate of music education opportunities through Mama Music Matters and In-School Programming, an expanded performance repertoire through Sing Harlem and Mama’s Original Musical Theater Productions, and strengthened community programming through the Harlem Healing Project and Wednesday Sings. Collectively, these initiatives have positively impacted over 10,000 youth, 500,000 community members, and one million audience members globally since our founding, fostering cultural connection and community growth both in New York City and beyond. 

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1983 – 1991

1986 – 1999

1999 – 2010

2011

2013

2016 – 2019

2020

2021

Mama I Want To Sing at The Heckscher Theater

  • Record breaking 8-year Off Broadway run.

  • Largest employer of Black entertainment talent, 52 weeks a

    year.

National and International Tours

  • Mama I Want To Sing tours across the United States as well as to Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Japan and London’s West End.

  • Vy becomes the Resident Producer at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, producing 4 original musical productions.

Mama Foundation For the Arts Established in Harlem

  • Vy renovates the brownstone on 126th St and starts Gospel at the Brownstone.

  • In 2006 with her daughter, Knoelle, Vy establishes the Gospel for Teens program.

  • In 2008, Sing Harlem tours to Japan.

  • 10-year residency at The Red Rooster Sunday Brunch begins.

Gospel for Teens featured on 60 Minutes

  • Gospel For Teens is featured on 60 Minutes with Lesley Stahl,
    and the double length segment wins two Emmy Awards.

Alive 55+ and Kickin’ Opens at The Dempsey Theater

  • Alive 55+ and Kickin’ runs for 5 years from 2013-2018.

  • Alive 55+ and Kickin’ is featured in a double-segment on 60
    Minutes with Leslie Stahl.

High Profile Sing Harlem Gigs

  • Sing Harlem performs on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and Chance The Rapper. (2016)
    ● Sing Harlem performs on Saturday Night Live and at the Grammy Awards with SZA. (2017, 2018)
    ● Sing Harlem performs at Tommy Hilfiger Fashion Week with singer and actress Zendaya. (2019)

Massive Disruption Due to COVID-19 and a Renewed Focus on the Racial Justice Movement

  • Mama Foundation transitions programming online

  • Mama Foundation is a partnering organization for the Black
    Lives Matter Mural on 125th and the surrounding community
    events concerning racial justice.

  • Mama Foundation launches Access to Opportunities.

  • Strategic Plan Process.

Mama Foundation Reinvented

  • Mama rolls out three-year strategic plan for growth and sustainability, including staff and programming expansion.

  • Programming returns in-person full time.

  • In-school programming expands with official partnerships with NYC public schools.

2023

Mama, I Want to Sing! Returns!

  • Mama Foundation celebrates the 40th Anniversary of Mama, I Want to Sing! with a three-week run of 19 performances in the venue where the Mama! journey began: El Teatro (formerly The Heckscher Theatre) at El Museo Del Barrio in East Harlem.

  • Mama Foundation celebrates its 25th Anniversary as a staple non-profit organization in Harlem!

History
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