MAMA to nourish, to encourage & fine tune

FOUNDATION to educate, to provide experience & access to opportunity 

 
Play.png

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.

Play.png
 

Our Core Values

Enrichment.png

HARLEM LEGACY

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

Wednesday Sings 2.jpg

BLACK MUSICAL EXCELLENCE

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

American Idol MAMA Foundation.jpeg

INDIVIDUAL POSSIBILITIES

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

Performance_edited.jpg

COMMUNAL BELONGING

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

Black Lives Matter.png

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.

 

Meet the Team

Ahmaya Knoelle Higginson

Vy Higginsen

Ken Wydro

Artistic Director

Founder & Executive Director

Creative Director

Ahmaya Knoelle Higginson.jpg
Vy Higgnesens.png
Ken Wydro Michael Stahl.jpg
 

Shamim Arman

Assistant Director of Operations

Janelle Askew

Executive Assistant

Don Holder

Technical Director

Bishop Kevin McKoy

Facilities Manager

Ron Stokes

Deputy Director

Logan Treadaway

Communications Manager

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. 

Gospel4TeensConcert2017-01322 (1).jpg

1983 – 1991

1986 – 1999

1999 – 2010

2011

2013

2016 – 2019

2020

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.