When Angela Bofill (pictured) stepped on to the stage of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” in 1979 to sing her hit single “Try Me,” her fans knew she would sing the lights out. But she ended up doing much more.
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Angela sang her heart out. From the very first verse, you knew someone had caused her pain — a lot of it.
I try to do
The best I can for you
But it seems it’s not enough
And you know I care,
Even when you’re not there.
But it’s not what you want.
You close your door,
when I wanna give you more.
And I feel, I feel so out of place.
And you know it’s true,
Don’t you think I’m good enough for you.
The “you” she’s singing about was her friend and musical colleague, Buddy Williams, a drummer with whom she performed and dated several times during her late teens. A man she felt did her wrong. A “jive a*s,” as Angela playfully described Buddy during an exclusive interview with NewsOne. “A real player. Lot of girl friends, you know. But talented, talented.”
(During an episode of TV One’s “Unsung”: Angela Bofill,” Buddy admitted to being the subject of the song, saying “it was wonderful to hear the amount of love that was put into that song. I’m glad I was a part of it.”)
She considers “I Try” her favorite song of all of the hit singles she’s written. It was a product of something the singer called “teenage angst.” Whatever the source of the song’s emotion, for those three heartfelt minutes, you weren’t simply listening to Angela; you were with Angela. She was at her very best.
Watch Angela Bofill sing “I Try” below:
Unfortunately, unexpected health issues for the past six years have stolen her powerful voice.
Since Angela, now 59, released her last studio album, “Love In Slow Motion,” in 1996, she’s suffered two debilitating strokes — one in January 2006 and the other in July 2007 — that have left her unable to sing.
During her interview with NewsOne, Angela was still Angela, though: girly, humorous, and warm, but the effects of the strokes have broken her syntax. While she is capable of finishing a sentence, you’ll notice abrupt pauses that interrupt her speech whenever she is in the middle of driving home a point.
But, with the help of old friends, admirers, and a loyal fan base, she is still entertaining. In 2010, her manager, Rich Engel, conceived “The Angela Bofill Experience,” an intimate live-set performance lead by singers Maysa and Phil Perry who sing the ’80s star’s top hits.
Angela, unable to stand, usually sits near Maysa and Phil, narrating and engaging the audience with her humor and charm because she can’t sing. Such an arrangement can only work for an artist who has a loyal fan base and doesn’t mind sharing the stage with other singers who perform his or her greatest works.
It is an unusual arrangement.
Maysa expressed as much when Engel called three years ago asking if she would be willing to be, essentially, Angela’s voice. While she was honored by the request, Maysa wondered how Angela would feel seeing someone mere feet away from her singing her signature hits, but the first performance put her concerns at ease.
“She is the sweetest lady,” Maysa says of Angela. “She was so encouraging. Not one time was she ever negative toward me. She was always extremely sweet and really happy that I was singing the songs for her. It’s been a beautiful experience all the way through.”
Watch the “Angela Bofill Experience” below:
In YouTube videos of the performances, one can see Angela nodding her head approvingly as Maysa sings to the audience. Between songs, the ladies and the band get along like old friends, chitchatting about “way back when.” When asked how it feels to entertain a crowd without uttering a tune, Angela says it’s like “a big ol’ living room, all the audience my guests, company.”
The guest keep coming too: many of Angela’s shows sell out, something that amazes her.
“Any time a crowd comes to see me, I’m surprised,” Angela told a Washington Post reporter back in 2011. “No sing no more and still people come [to see me perform]. Wow. Impressed.”
The ‘Pops’ The Took Angela’s Voice Away
Angela was born to a Cuban Father and a Puerto Rican Mother in the Bronx on May 3, 1954. She grew up listening to Latin music and was inspired by the great African-American performers of her day. Much of her childhood was devoted to the study of classical music and singing in a city chorus, which took up most of her weekends. She became a professional singer as a teenager.
When people describe Angela’s singing style, she is often referred to as the Latin jazz singer who crossed over to R&B, but she says she never switched genres. “Back in the day [the two musical styles] were a fusion, a mix,” she said.
In 1978, Angela signed with GRP Records. That same year, she released her debut album, “Angie,” which included hit singles “This Time I’ll Be Sweeter” and “Under the Moon and Over the Sky.” The following year, she released her second album”Angel of the Night,” featuring the hit “I Try.”
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In 1983, she released the funk album “Too Tough,” which was nominated for an American Music Award for “Best Album.” At the awards ceremony, Angela was a presenter for that category. As most expected, she would hand the award to none other than the legendary Michael Jackson who won for his album “Thriller.”
Watch Angela Bofill give the 1983 American Music Award for “Best Album” to Michael Jackson here:
On that night, Angela was at the apex of her career, but her popularity began to fade during the late ’80s, though she still continued to perform well into the ’90s and early 2000s. Some of her performances took her abroad, notably to the Philippines in 2004, where to her surprise, she has a large fan base.
Before touching down in Manila, Angela wondered if people would be anticipating her arrival. “Out of the plane, hundreds of people were holding my picture and saying, ‘Angie, Angie, Angie.'” Angela’s time in the Philippines, which happened to be her first trip abroad, was so successful it would result in her first recorded live album, “Live From Manila.”
Her voice was very much intact and so was her health.
But in January of 2006 during a drive from a restaurant in California, she felt a “pop” in her head. She was with her brother-in-law at the time who asked her if she was OK. She said she wasn’t sure. When they reached her home, she was unable to exit the vehicle; she couldn’t feel the left side of her body.
The stroke left her in intensive care for two weeks. Before she was able to fully recover from the first stroke, she suffered a second one in July of 2007.
“What’s the deal?” Angela asked of her second stroke. “But my father had seven strokes. After the seventh one, bye bye.”
It took until 2010 for her to recover. Her rehabilitation was akin to that of a toddler learning his or her body. She had to learn how to walk and talk again. The strokes have also affected her short-term memory, but Angela says, “Sometimes, I remember things from 50 years ago. [It] surprises me.”
Angela describes her recovering as being “born again.” When she gained some semblance of control over her vocals, she first tried singing “Jingle Bells.”
Watch the full episode of TV One’s “Unsung”: Angela Bofill below:
It’s a far cry from where she used to be, but Engel says such a small step forward is remarkable, given how debilitating her strokes were.
“She went from flat on her back to couldn’t talk and couldn’t go to the bathroom,” he said. “Now she can take care of herself. She got rid of the wheelchair and walks with a cane now. Her recovery has been pretty remarkable. Even though she is not where she should be, but compared to where she was, she’s 200 percent better.”
When asked what’s the most-challenging part of her daily routine, Angela pauses for a moment before answering.
“Wake up,” she says with a laugh. “I’m a deep sleeper.” Then she gets more serious. “It takes more time to do things now, you know. But God blessed me. I have a wonderful daughter, take care of me now. Difficult to accept that, you know. All these years, I’m a Mother. Now, my daughter a Mother hand to me.”
Again, Angela laughs. Then, she puts her own life into perspective.
“I’m still thankful I’ma still talking about [the strokes] today because I remember my daddy had a stroke,” she said. “I remember no talk. Difficult to walk. Remember that.”
She then reflects on the young Angela she once thought was invincible. “Back in the day, in the younger days, immortal. Nothing happen. I don’t expect that [I would have a stroke]. Surprised.”
Cracking Jokes Until She Can Sing Again
Someday, Angela wants to return to the stage with the same voice that melted her fans’ hearts away as it did during that prime-time moment on the “Tonight Show” back in 1979, even if such a return seems unlikely at the moment.
Engel says it will have to be “miracle No. 2″ for her to pull off such a feat but added “she got through miracle No. 1,” referring to her recovery from the strokes.
Whether Angela’s singing voice returns or not, she seems to be making the best out of her reinvented stage career. For every low and high note she can no longer hit, she’s replaced them with perfectly delivered jokes and recollections of her glory days during her performances in the “Angela Bofill Experience,” where she entertains her fans as a self-described “sit-down comedian.”
And her audiences love it.
And so does Angela.
It’s the best way she can make them — and herself — smile like she used to do when her voice was at its finest.
“I have to have a sense of humor because, because less wrinkles, smiling,” she said. “Crying bad on the face, you know. Not a good look.”