Prior to hip-hop's era of dominance, urban contemporary radio playlists in the 1980s and early 1990s featured vocal music that hovered near the line between jazz and R&B, crossing freely in both directions. One of the stalwarts of vocal jazz and urban music during those years was Angela Bofill, whose athletic voice and three-and-a-half-octave range were marks of her musical training and jazz ambitions. Yet Bofill had a soul singer's down-to-earth passion. "When there is a choice between being emotionally direct or technically polished, she almost inevitably chooses to be emotional," wrote New York Times critic Stephen Holden in 1982, early in the artist's career. Bofill's ten albums on the GRP, Arista, Capitol, Jive, and Shanachie labels together define a realm of sophisticated African-American pop.
Bofill's ability to move easily from style to style was rooted partly in her multicultural background. Born in the New York borough of the Bronx on May 2, 1954, she was the daughter of a Cuban-American father of French background and a Puerto Rican-born mother. "I thought growing up in a family that had different colors was really nice because there was no question about race—we were just people," Bofill told Cheryl Jenkins Richardson of the Chicago Sun-Times. The music heard in the Bofill household was likewise a mixture, ranging from Aretha Franklin, the vocal group the Platters, and the Rolling Stones, to Latino stars Tito Puente and Celia Cruz. Bofill's father had sung with Cuban bandleader Machito as a younger man.
Bofill started singing at age four and writing songs at 12. She started aiming toward a musical career, forming a band called the Puerto Rican Supremes while she was in high school. A lead soloist with New York's All-City Chorus, Bofill had a standout voice. During her college years she studied classical voice and thought about becoming an opera singer. Attending the Hartt College of Music in Hartford, Connecticut, she transferred to the Manhattan School of Music, earning a bachelor of music degree in 1976. Performances with a local Latin band, Ricardo Morrero & the Group, helped pay her tuition bills, and she also took featured solos with the chorus of the famed Dance Theater of Harlem. Later on, during quiet stretches in her career, Bofill made a living giving voice lessons.
What pushed Bofill back into the pop realm was a taste of success: she recorded a single called "My Friend" with Morrero, winning an award for Latin Female Vocalist of the Year from Latin New York magazine. She wrote songs, and even a jazz suite, of her own. After she performed at Madison Square Garden with legendary jazzmen Stan Getz and Benny Goodman, Bofill began to attract the attention of record labels. Executives were also impressed by her multiple talents; she wrote music of her own on occasion. Jazz flutist Dave Valentin, a friend of Bofill's from high school, paved the way for her to sign with his GRP label, and Bofill's debut album, Angie, was released in 1978.
That album and its successor, Angel of the Night (1979), spawned strong singles like "This Time I'll Be Sweeter" and "I Try," winning airplay on radio stations with a jazzy R&B format that would soon be given the name "Quiet Storm." By 1979 Bofill's concerts were filling middle-sized halls like Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. Touring heavily in both the United States and Europe, Bofill impressed music writers with the power and range of her voice. They couldn't agree among themselves whether Bofill should be classified as a soprano or an alto, for she was equally at ease in the resonant lower registers of her voice and at her stratospheric top.
Angel of the Night cracked the top ten on Billboard's R&B album chart, and in 1980 Bofill was signed to the Arista label, then one of the hottest labels in urban music under the leadership of its hit-sensitive president, Clive Davis. Bofill's first two albums for Arista, Something About You (1981) and Too Tough (1983), marked the high-water mark of her popularity. A group of female vocal divas—Deniece Williams, Melba Moore, and later the young Anita Baker—ruled urban airwaves during this period, but it was Bofill's mix of jazz vocal improvisation and R&B punch that really turned out concert crowds. Too Tough, with its title track and other songs produced by jazz-pop master Narada Michael Walden, hit the top ten on Billboard's R&B singles chart, and five of Bofill's six albums by 1984 had spent varying lengths of time in the pop top 100 as well.
Bofill had a large influence on Baker and on a newer generation of high-octane female vocalists that included Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. As a result of this new competition, plus the turn of urban music toward hip-hop and rawer R&B styles, Bofill's popularity dipped somewhat in the mid-1980s. After the moderately successful Teaser (1983), Let Me Be the One (1984), and Tell Me Tomorrow (1985), Bofill moved to Capitol for Intuition (1988) and Love Is in Your Eyes (1991).
By this time, Bofill's priorities had shifted. She married and had a daughter, Shauna, who by the early 2000s was talking about a music career of her own. Bofill divided her time in the 1990s between the East Coast and northern California's Sonoma County, where she eventually took up full-time residence. She was attracted by the area's natural beauty and also by the healthful habits of its residents, for she had become an advocate of eating uncooked foods exclusively. Bofill signed on to claims that the diet aided longevity, and she also pointed to more immediate benefits. "It sounds kind of gross, but there's definitely less mucus in my life," she told Washington Post writer Richard Harrington, "and it makes my vocals sound quite a lot clearer, for sure."
Indeed, critics and fans who heard Bofill in concert in the 1990s and early 2000s reported that her voice had lost none of its power. Two new Bofill albums, I Wanna Love Somebody (1993) and Love in Slow Motion (1996) appeared on the Jive and Shanachie labels, respectively. One marker of Bofill's continuing influence was the incorporation of her "Gotta Make It Up to You" into the 1998 Faith Evans hit "Life Will Pass You By." Her fan base and touring range extended beyond the United States to Japan and the Philippines. In the early 2000s she stayed in touch with her stage roots by appearing in several gospel musicals. Several of her classic albums were reissued. Bofill appeared at New York's Blue Note and other top U.S. jazz clubs, and New York's Women in Jazz Festival was among her many stops in the summer of 2005.
For the Record …
Born on May 2, 1954, in Bronx, NY; of French-Cuban and Puerto Rican background; married; children: Shauna. Education: Attended Hartt College of Music, Hartford, CT; Manhattan School of Music, bachelor's degree, 1976.
Performed with Ricardo Morrero & the Group, late 1970s; signed to GRP label; released debut album Angie, 1978; signed to Arista label, 1980; released hit albums Something About You (1981) and Too Tough (1983); later recorded for Capitol, Jive, and Shanachie labels; extensive international concert touring.
Awards: Latin New York magazine, most promising new female vocalist, 1979.
Addresses: Record company—Sony/BMG, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022. Website—Angela Bofill Official Website: http://www.angelabofill.com.
Angie, GRP, 1978; reissued, Buddha, 2001.
Angel of the Night, GRP, 1979; reissued, Buddha, 2001.
Something About You, Arista, 1981; reissued, BMG Heritage, 2002.
Too Tough, Arista, 1983.
Teaser, Arista, 1983.
Let Me Be the One, Arista, 1984.
Tell Me Tomorrow, Arista, 1985.
Best of Angela Bofill, Arista, 1986.
Intuition, Capitol, 1988.
I Wanna Love Somebody, Jive, 1993.
Love in Slow Motion, Shanachie, 1996.
Definitive Collection, Arista, 1999.
Platinum & Gold Collection, BMG Heritage, 2003.
Billboard, March 6, 1993, p. 22; March 9, 1996, p. 18.
Boston Globe, April 12, 1983, p. 1.
Chicago Sun-Times, January 16, 1987, p. 54.
Essence, June 1993, p. 48.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 11, 1997, p. 8.
New York Times, February 11, 1982, p. C15.
New York Post, September 2, 2005, p. 62.
News & Record (Piedmont Triad, NC), October 1, 1998, p. 8.
Ottawa Citizen (Canada), November 14, 1998, p. E13.
People, March 28, 1993, p. 22.
USA Today, February 28, 1989, p. D5.
Washington Post, January 23, 1979, p. B8; March 25 1983, p. 36; May 1, 1992, p. N15; August 18, 2001, p. C5; January 9, 2004, p. T8.
"Angela Bofill," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (September 4, 2005).
Angela Bofill Official Website, http://www.angelabofill.com (September 4, 2005).