Photo by Ruth Morgan

VY HIGGINSEN AND KEN WYDRO

Co-Writers, Co-Producers, Co-Directors 

Mama, I Want to Sing (1983- )

Mama Foundation for the Arts (1999- )

“Mama’s mission is to preserve, present and promote the culture of African American music and dance.”
           

Vy Higginsen and Ken Wydro, the driving forces behind the history-making musical, Mama, I Want to Sing, say that the primary mission of the Harlem-based Mama Foundation for the Arts is “to preserve, present and promote the culture of African American music and theater.”

 

The staggering numbers around this popular musical guarantees its place in theater history. For the past 21 years, according to its creators, Mama has been performed at some location in the world. The first eight years at the Heckscher Theatre on 104th Street and 5th Avenue in Harlem saw more than 2500 performances. Another 1500 performances were done during 21⁄2 years of touring. It played before 5000 people in Madison Square Garden; played six months in London’s West End and has traveled to Japan 17 times, performing before thousands of people.

 

“When we first went to Tokyo for nine weeks in 1988,” says Vy, “Japan had no gospel tradition.” Adds Ken, “Now they have schools in Osaka and Tokyo teaching gospel. Also, Mama has opened up cultural and financial opportunities for other gospel groups and black voice and piano teachers not only in Japan but also in Austria and Germany.”

 

Mama, whose heroine is based on the life of the late Doris Troy, Vy’s sister, has also provided employment for hundreds of actors, technicians, musicians, stage managers, wardrobe mistresses and so on. It has also led to other successful productions including Sing: Mama Two and Born to Sing: Mama Three. “Between 1983 and 1986,” notes Ken, “Vy and I wrote three successful musicals. I don’t know of any other composers with that kind of track record during a similar period.”

 

“We thank those black theater-goers who strongly supported us at the beginning, before everyone else caught on,” says Vy. “They heard the call; they wanted it; they supported it; they were loyal and loving. And they never stopped coming for the eight years we were at The Heckscher.”