Roger Guenveur Smith and Meshell Ndegeocello Join ASK YOUR MAMA at the Apollo Tonight

Roger Guenveur Smith and Meshell Ndegeocello Join ASK YOUR MAMA at the Apollo Tonight

The Apollo Theater and Manhattan School of Music previously announced that actor Roger Guenveur Smith and singer-songwriter and musician Meshell Ndegeocello have been added to the cast of Ask Your Mama, a multimedia symphonic work based on Langston Hughes' epic poem.

Smith will appear as spoken word artist and Ndegeocello will perform as bassist in this sonic tapestry of music, film, and spoken word by Emmy Award-winning composer Laura Karpman. Soprano Jessye Norman will lead an all-star cast that includes jazz vocalist Nnenna Freelon. Originally scheduled as part of the cast, ?uestlove and Black Thought of The Roots will not appear due to scheduling conflicts.

The performance will take place at the world famous Apollo Theater tonight, March 23, 2013, and will feature the Manhattan School of Music Chamber Sinfonia led by George Manahan, who also conducted the sold-out world premiere at Carnegie Hall and a subsequent performance at the Hollywood Bowl.

Langston Hughes conceived his 1961 epic "Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz" as a multi-media creation, actually penning sketches for an imaginary soundtrack in the margin of each page as an accompaniment to his words. Hughes' "score" included hot jazz, German lieder, cha-cha, patriotic songs, post-bop, and Middle Eastern, as well as excerpts from specific songs like "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic." Karpman's composition, with the poet's own recorded voice at the core of the work, brings Hughes's vision to life, combining his language with sounds that come together to evoke the turbulent flow of American cultural life, making the fifty-year old text startlingly current. Sold out debut performances of the work at Carnegie Hall in 2009 were a critical success. This performance of Ask Your Mama brings the Manhattan School of Music: Harlem Nights series to the Apollo.

Ticket information: 35, $55, $75 and $125 (VIP Tickets). Tickets are on sale now through Ticketmaster.

Four-time Emmy Award-winning composer Laura Karpman was raised on bebop and Beethoven, and trained at The Juilliard School, where she played jazz and scatted in bars and studied with Milton Babbitt. Her music has been performed by the Los Angeles and Czech Philharmonics; Orchestra of St. Luke's; Houston, National, Detroit, and Prague Symphonies; and American Composers Orchestra, to name only a few. Her multi-media work Ask Your Mama, written for Jessye Norman and The Roots, premiered to a sold-out house at Carnegie Hall and at the Hollywood Bowl. She has also written scores for Steven Spielberg, PBS, Smithsonian, documentarian Barbara Koppel, the Chinese Government (for which she received an Annie Award nomination), and videogame music (for which she received a GANG Award) for Sony Online Entertainment, where she was resident orchestral composer. Karpman has received the American Academy of Arts and Letters' Ives Fellowship and several ASCAP and Meet the Composer awards and has had residencies at Tanglewood and the MacDowell Colony. A member of the UCLA faculty and recently a guest composer of The Juilliard Composition Forum, she has been a visiting professor for the Valencia Spain campus of Berklee College of Music program since this fall. Recent and upcoming premieres include Hidden World of Girls, a collaboration with NPR's Kitchen Sisters for the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music and conductor Marin Alsop; Now All Set, honoring Milton Babbitt; Different Lanes for string quartet and 2 iPads; the 110 Project for the LA Opera, and an opera in collaboration with the New York Times columnist Gail Collins.

The Apollo is a national treasure that has had significant impact on the development of American culture and its popularity around the world. Since introducing the first Amateur Night contests in 1934, the Apollo Theater has played a major role in cultivating artists and in the emergence of innovative musical genres including jazz, swing, bebop, R&B, gospel, blues, soul, and hip-hop. Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Sammy Davis, Jr., James Brown, Michael Jackson, Bill Cosby, Gladys Knight, Luther Vandross, D'Angelo, Lauryn Hill, and countless others began their road to stardom on the Apollo's stage. The Apollo Theater's new artistic vision builds on its legacy. New Apollo programming has music as its core, driving large scale and more intimate music, dance, and theater presentations. The Apollo will continue to present historically relevant presentations, as well as more forward-looking, contemporary work. Based on its cultural significance and architecture, the Apollo Theater received state and city landmark designation in 1983 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. For more information, visit

Manhattan School of Music is a preeminent international conservatory, granting Bachelor of Music, Master of Music, and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees. Established in 1918 by pianist and philanthropist Janet Daniels Schenck, the School is dedicated to the personal, artistic, and intellectual development of its students, who range from the precollege through the postgraduate level. Offering both classical and jazz training, Manhattan School of Music trains students in performance and composition and provides a core curriculum in music theory, music history, and the humanities. Students come from all over the world, drawn by a rigorous program that reflects the highest standards of musical heritage, and by the faculty, which includes some of the world's best-known artists. Manhattan School of Music contributes to the city's musical life through an active community outreach program and with concerts and performances that are recognized as some of the finest events in New York's musical calendar. Manhattan School of Music's alumni are active in every aspect of contemporary musical life. Many are among the most distinguished artists performing in concert halls, opera houses, and on jazz stages throughout the world today. MSMNYC.EDU

Pictured: Jessye Norman, Laura Karpman, George Manahan. Photo by Catherine Byrd.