THIS TIME, SHE’S EVEN SWEETER: The Hub’s EXCLUSIVE Conversation with R & B and Jazz Great ANGELA BOFILL

by Michael P. Coleman

Singer-songwriter Angela Bofill arrived on the music scene in 1978 with her jazz-inspired Angie album on the GRP label.  Born to a Cuban father and Afro-Latino mother, the singer-songwriter was one of the first Latina artists to find success in the R&B, jazz, and pop markets.  Led by the hit "This Time I'll Be Sweeter" and Bofill's own jazz composition, "Under The Moon and Over The Sky" (which showcased her amazing 5 octave range), Angie set the stage for her sophomore album, Angel Of The Night, featuring the hits "I Try" and "What I Wouldn't Do (For The Love Of You)".  Her songs' plaintive lyrics, along with her dynamic vocal range and impeccable phrasing, made her a standout on R & B and pop radio.

Bofill's initial successes prompted Clive Davis to sign her to his burgeoning Arista label, where her streak of hits continued with "Too Tough", "Break It To Me Gently", "I'm On Your Side", and the stirring Top 20 pop hit "Tonight I Give In".

Bofill, 59, was sidelined for a time by two massive strokes in 2006 and 2007, leaving her paralyzed on her left side and unable to speak for over six months.  Her indomitable spirit pulled her through, however, and Bofill's artistry lives on in The Angela Bofill Experience, a multi-media show that has played to packed houses across the country.  Bofill narrates the show, sharing stories from her life and career while being joined by artists like Phil Perry, Melba Moore, and Maysa Leak who perform Bofill's biggest hits and signature songs.  Now residing in northern California, Bofill hopes to bring The Angela Bofill Experience to the Sacramento area soon.

As Bofill's "I Try", quite simply, had broken my little 13-year-old heart when I heard it in 1978, I was honored to chat by phone with the singer recently.  The grandmother of two was feisty, funny, thoughtful, and humble, prefacing almost every comment and question with a sincere "Thank you!" before answering.  The singer graciously shared memories of her early career, stories of working with legends Johnny Mathis, Diana Ross, Clive Davis, and Whitney Houston, and previewed The Angela Bofill Experience for her Sacramento fans.

Hub:    From the very beginning, your vocal delivery was very refined.  You enunciated very clearly, which was unusual for the time, especially for a jazz artist.  Without calling other names, there were artists who followed you who drew on jazz influences during the 80s and 90s, but none of them exhibited diction like yours - it helped your records stand out.  Was that intentional, or did that come naturally for you?

Bofill:  It was on purpose.  Earlier, when I was a teenager, I worked in a chorus in New York City.  Our choir teacher taught us about diction, enunciation, and so on. Later, when I was 18 years old, I went to a music conservatory, and graduated with a bachelors degree from the Manhattan School of Music.   I learned to sing in four languages - german, italian, french, and english.

Hub:    You added a fifth language somewhere along the way, as I've recently become aware of your spanish language recordings.  Which is your native language, spanish or english?

Bofill:  English.  My dad was born in Cuba.  My father sang, and he had a beautiful tenor voice.  My mother was Puerto Rican, and God bless her, but she could not sing well!  [Laughs].  She had personality for days, but she could not sing well!  My dad was a character too...he was a joker.

Hub:    You were one of the very first Latina artists to find success in R & B and jazz in the United States.   You opened doors for everyone from Gloria Estefan to Lisa Lisa to Jennifer Lopez.  How does it feel to be a trailblazer in that regard?

Bofill:  I'm honored!  I'm very proud of my Latina culture!  Especially during the holidays...LOVE our delicious food!  (laughs)

Hub:    Did you get any resistance from your record label, so early on, to recording songs in spanish?

Bofill:  No, because GRP really advocated for the artist.  They wanted us to be who we were.

Hub:    I discovered you with your second album, Angel Of The Night.  I have to tell you that it had one of the most striking album covers ever released.

Bofill:  [Laughs] Thank you!

Hub:    You started writing songs very early...

Bofill: ...when I was 15. "I Try", "Under The Moon"...I always thought it was important to write my own songs, and I think that's how I developed my own style.

Hub:    Your range on "Under The Moon" is incredible.  Do you have an idea of how broad your vocal range was?

Bofill:  I've been told it was five octaves.

Hub:    Many people remember the late Minnie Ripperton, then Deniece Williams, and later Rachelle Farrell and Mariah Carey, but you were right in there with those ladies with an upper register that, literally, went to the moon and the stars.  Who were your vocal influences?

Bofill:  I was influenced by Roberta Flack, and all of the Motown acts.  Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, the Temptations.  I love everything about Detroit.

Hub:    That's my home.  I was born there.

Bofill:  Really?  I love Detroit, everything but the snow and cold.  Greektown, the casinos, and the food.  Detroit has the best mediterranean food!  And Aretha Franklin!

Hub:    Why did you leave GRP for Arista?

Bofill:  Well, it was a good business decision!  (Laughs).  I had met Clive Davis long before I even signed with GRP.   Clive really gets music, you know, and he chose songs for me that were international hits..."Break It To Me Gently" and others.  Clive respected the artist.  I loved working for him.  One day, very early on, I walked into his office and played "I Try" for him.  It wasn't even finished yet.  He said "My God, you've written a classic R & B song."  That meant a lot to me, especially as a new artist.

Hub:    When you went to Arista, you also started working with Narada Michael Walden.

Bofill:  Yes!  I met Narada backstage at a benefit concert here in the Bay area.  He introduced himself and said "Angie, if you ever need a producer, call me up!"  Later, Clive told me he thought Narada would be a good fit for me.  Narada wrote and produced a big hit for me, "Too Tough."

Hub:    I LOVE that song.  He also produced one of my personal favorites of yours, "Break It To Me Gently".

Bofill:  Yes, he did.  Clive found that song, and Narada produced it.   Narada's still a great, great friend of mine.

Hub:    He also did some early production work on Stacy...

Bofilll: ...Lattisaw!  Oh, my God.  I love Stacy!  What a beautiful voice.

Hub:    Narada also cut a few songs on Diana Ross that are among my favorites or hers, for her Take Me Higher album, and you sang background on those songs.  What was working with Diana Ross like?

Bofill:   Oh, my God!  I idolize Diana!  I felt like I was one of the Supremes while I was recording those songs!  [Laughs]

Hub:    Your phrasing on ballads reminds me of Diana's.  Very controlled, crisp enunciation.  Impeccable.

Bofill:   Wow.  Thank you!  She was a BIG influence on me.  She's a lovely woman.  I love her to death.  I was honored to meet her the first time in 1984, at the American Music Awards.  After the show, Diana invited me to a party to celebrate Michael Jackson.  She had on an all-metal dress that I loved.  She told me it weighed over 40 pounds!  (Laughs)

Hub:    You also worked with Johnny Mathis, recording a duet called "A Special Part Of Me."  What was it like to record with Johnny Mathis?

Bofill:   Oh, my God.  He's a legend.  I got to write the song expressly for him, and I was thrilled he liked it!  He's a very nice man, a gentleman.  He'd told me that he was a fan of mine, and that he respected me as a artist.  It meant the world to me.  Johnny STILL sounds absolutely wonderful...a golden voice. The song itself was quite special, as it was a message of sorts to my first daughter, who I was pregnant with at the time!

Hub:    Do you think your career, or promotion of you as an artist, began to suffer at Arista after Clive Davis signed Whitney Houston?  Arista really pulled out all of the stops for Whitney's first release, and you left the label soon thereafter.

Bofill:  You know...there are a lot of politics involved in the record business, but no, it was just time to move on.  I liked Whitney Houston.  She was a very nice girl.  She used to do a benefit concert every year for children, around Christmas time.  She asked me to perform at it one year, and of course I said yes.  We were like sisters.  There was no competition between us.  We sang different styles of music, you know?  She was a very, very sweet girl.

Hub:    Our readers will be thrilled to hear you're performing again.  Tell me about "The Angela Bofill Experience"

Bofill:  After the strokes, I couldn't sing very much any more.  Now, I can sit down on the stage with friends of mine - sometimes Maysa, sometimes Melba Moore, sometimes Will Downing - while they sing my songs and I show videos and tell stories about my career.  I like to meet with fans after the show, sign autographs and take pictures.  It's been very nice.

Hub:    I understand that you're thinking of bringing the show to northern California.  We'd love to have you in Sacramento.

Bofill:  I'd love to bring the show to Sacramento!

Hub:    I'm wondering whether it's difficult for you on some level to watch others sing your songs, when you can't do that anymore?

Bofill:  No, not at all.  Maysa has a wonderful voice.  It's as smooth as butter.  It's a blessing to hear others perform my songs so well, and to bring the show to the fans.

Hub:    You've mentioned some artists who have covered your songs.  Are there artists singing today who you'd like to hear cover some of your music?

Bofill:  Oh, yeah.  Bruno Mars, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys...

Hub:    Those are great choices!   You have really good taste in music!  Are you still writing songs today?

Bofill:  I want my next CD to be a children's album, in honor of my grandchildren.   I'm working on a song for the grandmothers.  With my two beautiful grandchildren, I want to do an album for them!

Highlights of Bofill's amazing catalog are available at iTunes and on Amazon.

If you are a promoter or own a venue, and are interested in booking The Angela Bofill Experience, email mikelsmindseye@me.com for information.

If you are interested in catching Michael P. Coleman, he's sitting under a tree somewhere with his iPod, allowing Angela Bofill to break it to him, gently.   He's also at michaelpcoleman.com or on Twitter: @ColemanMichaelP