Hitting the High Notes

As a toddler, Khyra Cunningham was singing for the sheer joy of it, entertaining friends and family before facing a larger audience at age four when she joined the Friendship Baptist Church Choir in Paterson, NJ.

Fast forward two decades and Khyra is now part of the renowned choir Sing Harlem. The group has performed on America’s Got Talent, Live with Kelly and Ryan, and The Tonight Show (with Chance the Rapper, Ty Dolla $ign, and Anthony Hamilton), and recently sang the national anthem at MetLife Stadium before the HBCU Classic football game between Morehouse and Howard University. They have also performed at Lincoln Center, the Apollo Theater, Soho House New York, Red Rooster in Harlem, and at the designer Nate Berkus’s wedding.

Kelly and Ryan Live show

Next month Khyra will be part of the ensemble of Mama, I Want to Sing, the longest running off-Broadway Black musical in theater history. Created by award-winning author and playwright Vy Higginsen, it has celebrated Black theater, Black culture, and Black music for nearly 40 years.

Aside from her natural born talent, Khyra has her mother to thank for her success. As a 15-year-old who liked to sleep in, her mother, hearing on the radio about auditions taking place for the Gospel for Teens Choir in Harlem, told her to try out. No surprise that she received a callback saying that she was selected (thanks Mom!).

Ten years later, she is still singing with the choir. The artistic and musical director Ahmaya Knoelle Higginson started Sing Harlem, a commercial traveling ensemble and choir, and Khyra, a soprano vocalist, was one of the few individuals selected to be part of it. 

America Got Talent Show
Khyra Cunningham, second row, first person, far right.

It was in the Gospel for Teens Choir supported by the Mama Foundation for the Arts — an organization created by Vy Higginsen to help re-establish Harlem as an artistic and cultural centerpiece of the world – where Khyra received professional training. Explains Khyra, “There were different levels within the Gospel for Teens Choir: the freshman level where you are taught how to breathe, control, pitch, harmonize, and blend your voice, then an advanced class leading to a performance before a live audience.” This was particularly beneficial when she was on America’s Got Talent where she was dancing and singing at the same time. If you are wondering, Sing Harlem got “all yeses” from the judges and they are waiting to hear back about plans for the next round. Fingers crossed! [Watch their AGT audition.]

In addition to gospel music, she loves R&B, soul, jazz, and opera.

Khyra, born and raised in the Bronx, has been at Einstein for almost two years, working as a clinical research study coordinator in the department of medicine’s division of nephrology. Her colleagues are thrilled for her. “Khyra is such a talent, and we are so excited for her, especially as she embarks on her stint with Mama, I Want to Sing,” says Dr. Wei Chen, associate professor of medicine in the division of nephrology. “We marvel at how she balances her singing with full-time responsibilities at work and taking courses in the evenings and on weekends in preparation for nursing school.” 

Multi-talented and dedicated to all she takes on, Khyra exemplifies the Mama Foundation for the Arts motto, “Ever Ready.”