Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Cissy Houston and More Will Celebrate Mama, I Want To Sing's 30th Anniversary

By Michael Gioia
29 Jan 2013

Mama, I Want To Sing, the 1983 gospel musical created by Vy Higginsen that currently plays the Dempsey Theater, will celebrate its 30th anniversary March 23 with a special performance of Mama, I Want To Sing: The Next Generation in Harlem.



The 7 PM gala event at the Dempsey, taking place exactly 30 years to the day from when the original production opened in Harlem, benefits Gospel for Teens, a program of the Mama Foundation for the Arts' School for Gospel, Jazz, and R&B Arts. Tickets, which include a post-performance celebration of culture and community, are $300.

The event is hosted by a benefit committee, chaired by Lesley Stahl, that includes Grammy winners Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Cissy Houston and Shirley Caesar as well as songwriter-performer Valerie Simpson and writer Higginsen. It is underwritten by Tony Award-honored MTI CEO Freddie Gershon and his wife, Myrna. 

Mama, I Want To Sing, according to press notes, "tells the story of a talented young girl who dreams of leaving her church choir to pursue a life in popular music, despite strong objections from her mother. A tribute to the many African-American artists with church choir roots who rose to fame in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, creator Vy Higginsen based her musical on the life of her sister, Doris Troy, whose 1963 hit 'Just One Look' launched her to international fame."

The musical has a book and lyrics by Higginsen and Ken Wydro with original music by Wesley Naylor.

The current cast includes Ahmaya Knoelle Higginson as Doris, Bettina Pennon as Mama, Sandra Huff as Sister Carrie, Tyrone Flowers as Reverend Winters and Elijah Ahmad Lewis as the Minister of Music, with members of the Gospel for Teens Choir in the ensemble.

The original production of Mama, I Want To Sing opened March 23, 1983, in Harlem at The Heckscher Theater. The show played for eight years and over 2,500 performances in New York, becoming the longest-running black Off-Broadway musical in history. Mama, I Want To Sing went on to play another 1,000 performances through a three-year tour across the USA; a run in London's West End; several European tours (Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia); multiple appearances in the Caribbean; and seven tours throughout Japan. A revival, directed by Wydro, opened at The Dempsey in April 2011.

Mama, I Want To Sing: The Next Generation is regularly performed weekly (Saturdays at 5 PM) at The Dempsey Theater along with Sing, Harlem, Sing! (Saturdays at 2 PM). Performances of Mama, I Want To Sing are currently scheduled through May 11.

Founded in 1998, The Mama Foundation for the Arts is a non-profit organization whose mission is to "present, preserve and promote the history and fundamentals of gospel, jazz, and rhythm and blues music for current and future generations."

The Dempsey Theater is located at 127 West 127th Street (between Lenox and 7th Avenues). For more information, visit MamaFoundation.org. For tickets, call (212) 280-1045 or visit SmartTix.com.