Our birthday tribute to Angela Bofill (May 2)

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    Photo courtesy of Angela Bofill

    Today we wish a very happy birthday to a good friend of SoulTracks and an all-time great singer, Ms. Angela Bofill, who was born on May 2, 1954. In a career spanning four decades, she graced both soul and jazz with a level of excellence that has kept so many of her song on “spin” years after they were originally released. And the health problems that plagued her beginning in the mid 00’s perhaps made her longtime fans appreciate her even more, even as she courageously and successfully fought physical limitations.

    Raised in New York by a Cuban father and a Puerto Rican mother, Angela Bofill was a student of many styles of music, from the latin sounds played regularly by her family to the soul and jazz sounds of her neighborhood in the Bronx.  She began singing professionally as a teenager as a member of New York's All City Voices and as featured lead soloist for the Dance Theater of Harlem.

    Today we wish a very happy birthday to a good friend of SoulTracks and an all-time great singer, Ms. Angela Bofill, who was born on May 2, 1954. In a career spanning four decades, she graced both soul and jazz with a level of excellence that has kept so many of her song on “spin” years after they were originally released. And the health problems that plagued her beginning in the mid 00’s perhaps made her longtime fans appreciate her even more, even as she courageously and successfully fought physical limitations.

    Raised in New York by a Cuban father and a Puerto Rican mother, Angela Bofill was a student of many styles of music, from the latin sounds played regularly by her family to the soul and jazz sounds of her neighborhood in the Bronx.  She began singing professionally as a teenager as a member of New York's All City Voices and as featured lead soloist for the Dance Theater of Harlem.

    After completing her studies in California, Bofill was introduced by her friend, jazz flutist Dave Valentin, to Dave Grusin and Larry Rosen of GRP records, and they signed her for her 1978 debut, Angie. The album was a breakout smash on contemporary jazz radio and the tastefully arranged jazz vocal disc showed a gifted young artist with a rich voice beyond her years and real talent as a songwriter.  Featuring a number of great cuts, including most notably a cover of Gwen Guthrie's "This Time I'll Be Sweeter," Angie became one of the year's biggest jazz albums.  She followed it in 1979 with the even better Angel of the Night, a more muscular album that showed she had the chops to handle upbeat material like the title cut and the fantastic "What I Wouldn't Do" as well as softer tracks such as her own composition, "I Try" (later beautifully remade by Will Downing).  

    Sensing a star in the making, Clive Davis and Arista Records bought out Angela's GRP contract and teamed her with hot writer/producer Narada Michael Walden for Something About You, an attempt at a more straight-ahead pop/soul album.  While some of Bofill's jazz fans balked at the new album, it was a critical success, providing her with some of the best material of her career, including the stepper "Holding Out For Love" and the wonderful ballad "Break It To Me Gently."  It was one of 1982's best albums and still sounds great today.  Unfortunately, Arista pulled a rare blunder in its choices of singles to be released from the album, and the disc never received the props it deserved.   

    She teamed up again with Walden in 1983 for Too Tough, which was even more directly aimed at the urban market, with the hit funk-laded title cut and the beautiful ballad, "Tonight I Give In." Too Tough bore little resemblance to Bofill's earlier jazz stylings, and may have cost her some jazz fans, though it became her highest charting album on the R&B charts.  She again teamed with Walden for Teaser, which featured the anthemic ballad, "I'm On Your Side." 

    Whether singing jazz, soul or funk, and regardless of the quality of material she worked with, Bofill always got the most out of her material and made even lesser songs sound better than they should. She recorded two more modestly successful albums for Arista (with the help of the System and George Duke) before moving to Capitol and producer Norman Connors for Intuition in 1988.  It was her last notable chart success.  She recorded three more albums over the next eight years of varying quality, and provided backing vocals on a number of other albums, most notably Connors' excellent Eternity in 2000, where she sounded as wonderful as ever.

    She's appeared in a number of stage plays over the last few years, including "God Don't Like Ugly" and "What A Man Wants, What A Man Needs."  She's also regularly toured the US and Europe in multi-artist jazz artist shows.

    In January, 2006, Angela suffered a stroke and was hospitalized for quite a while. She was uninsured, so many of her friends organized benefit concerts to raise money for her medical treatment. Sadly, while seemingly on the road to recovery, Angela suffered a second massive stroke on July 10, 2007. It was at that time that she won the Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual SoulTracks Readers’ Choice Awards. 

    Angela began a long recovery from that point forward, ultimately returning home by Christmas, 2009.  Then, in the most pleasant surprise, she appeared on a mini-tour of a show called "The Angela Bofill Experience" with the help of friends like Maysa, Phil Perry and Dave Valentin, where she shared stories, accompanied by the sounds of her musical friends. The mini-tour opened with five sold out shows in San Francisco and rave reviews, and continued from time to time throughout 2011. In 2012, TV One aired an episode of its hit series Unsung that featured Angela's fascinating life and career. On a personal note, I was honored when Angie sent SoulTracks a short video of congratulations when we celebrated our 10th anniversary in May of 2013.

    Angela has since continued her work recovering from her ailments and enjoying her family. She lives with her daughter and son-in-law in California and is a happy grandmother of four, including twins. And while she can no longer perform, Angie remains close to the hearts of her fans and regularly on their music players. Happy birthday, Angie!

    By Chris Rizik