VY HIGGINSEN'S QUEST TO PRESERVE GOSPEL MUSIC IS ALSO BUILDING CONFIDENCE AND CHARACTER IN HER TEENAGE STUDENTS - "60 MINUTES" SUNDAY
Lesley Stahl Follows a Teen Gospel Class for a Year on its
Musical and Emotional Journey
Vy Higginsen loves gospel music. And she loves teenagers. When she brings the two together in her Gospel for Teens program she creates a bond that's great for the music and even better for the teens. Lesley Stahl follows Higginsen and her students as they learn to sing this original American art form and build the confidence and character it inspires for a 60 MINUTES story to be broadcast Sunday, April 3 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
Higginsen, a New York radio personality and theater producer, set out to preserve a musical genre that has deep roots in the African American community. She wants to keep gospel music alive by passing it on to teenagers more likely to have been raised on hip hop. "It's uniquely American. It's a story of a people in song-- created out of an American experience," she tells Stahl. Watch an excerpt.
She holds auditions for her Harlem class and attracts teens from the inner city to the suburbs, accepting those who can "carry a tune." Higginsen then teaches them how to sing gospel and in the process, how to hold their heads high. She demands the students speak their names and their hometowns with gusto after being disappointed at her very first audition five years ago. "They were mumbling...[as if to say] I'm ashamed of who I am and where I come from. No!" Subsequently, all of Higginsen's students are encouraged to belt out their names as they would a song.
60 Minutes spent a year with Gospel for Teens, following a new group of students from their audition through a year of classes and performance.
The theme song Higginsen picked for the class, "How Could Anyone Ever Tell You," embodies the message she tries to instill in her students. "I actually wept when I heard it, �Don't let anyone ever tell you that you're anything less than beautiful,'' says Higginsen. "That song is meant to empower you and to think about yourself differently than you think somebody else may have thought about you," she says.
A few of her students come from challenging backgrounds and benefit mightily from Higginson's program. While most have the support of parents in their homes, others do not, but they still improve their confidence and learn to live their lives with the help of song -- even if their parents are not there to support them or see them sing. That bodes well for their future, says Higginsen.
"I can only think that they do it anyway. With or without their parents, they do it anyway," she says. "So what does that say about who they are, their commitment, their resilience, their drive. All of those things are necessary for success," Higginsen tells Stahl.