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2012 Issue 3: FEATURE

The Show Goes On

A Jazz Singer Loses Her Voice, But Not Her Courage

By Lisa Pogue

Angie Bofill has performed on Soul Train and The Tonight Show. She sparkled when she presented Michael Jackson with his American Music Award for Thriller in 1984. Then, six years ago at age 52, the beloved Latin jazz singer from the Bronx suffered two near-fatal strokes that paralyzed her left side and impaired her famous vocal cords. For the first time in her life, music didn’t flow.

Today, Bofill’s speech remains a little jagged, a little start-and-stop, and the use of her left arm hasn’t returned. But that doesn’t keep her from taking the stage and gracing the spotlight she’s become so accustomed to living under.

The Angela Bofill Experience stage show began in July 2010 and continues to captivate audiences nationwide.

“My manager, Rich Engel, came up with the idea,” Bofill told BayTimes.com. “My fans really wanted to see me, (but) the stroke damaged my vocal cords; no more singing.”

During her often sold-out performances, Bofill uses a cane to walk on stage to her chair where she narrates the moments and music of her life, sharing ups and downs and successes and misfortunes. Talented female soul and jazz singers Maysa and Melba Moore alternate singing Bofill’s hits while a highlight reel of her career plays on a screened backdrop. It’s not unusual for fans to welcome Bofill with a standing ovation and to erupt with applause throughout the hour-long show.

The artist typically performs a couple of shows a month and has an occupational therapist travel with her. Though traveling across the country can be exhausting, Bofill says she enjoys performing and listening to the female vocalists share her music. “They sing beautifully,” she says. “It’s interesting to hear their interpretations of my songs.”

The Angela Bofill Experience has appeared in New York, San Francisco, Virginia and Washington, D.C. Audiences and music reviewers rave about the remarkable show, calling Bofill’s performance a magical and inspiring rebirth.

Life in the Spotlight

Bofill earned her success at a very young age. She began singing when she was four. At 12, she wrote her first song, and at age 17, she wrote the hit “I Try.” The Latin jazz and R&B artist grew up listening to Motown, Aretha Franklin, Tito Puente and Celia Cruz. She explains on her website: “Growing up in Harlem, if you didn’t have the latest James Brown or a Supremes forty-five single, you weren’t hip. We always had Latin music playing in the house because of my parents’ love for music. In fact, my father would sit in and sing with the great Cuban bandleader, Machito.”

Bofill’s unique sound dominated airwaves in the 1980s and ’90s. She churned out 10 studio albums and one live album and sold millions of records worldwide. She was dubbed a Latin bombshell, and fans swooned over Bofill’s distinct blend of jazz, pop, R&B and Latin. She sold out stadiums in Europe, Africa and Asia, performing hits such as “Angel of the Night,” “I’m on Your Side,” “Tonight I Give In,” and “This Time I’ll Be Sweeter.”

Patience and Family

In 2006, Bofill was riding home from a California restaurant with her brother-in-law when she felt “an explosion” inside her head. “There was a pop,” she recalls. “My left side collapsed.” She had experienced a major stroke.

Both her mother and father suffered strokes, she says, attributing her own stroke to genetics. After the stroke, doctors discovered Bofill had high blood pressure and diabetes.

Bofill was hospitalized and initially required 24-hour care. Doctors said they didn’t think she would walk or talk again. She powered through three and a half years of rehabilitation before recapturing her ability to walk and master motor skills. It took more than a year for her speech to return.

“They said I wouldn’t walk, I wouldn’t talk. I am walking and talking,” Bofill shares on her website. “I should be dead, but I am still here and grateful to be here!”

Bofill battled post-stroke depression. She moved in with her sister and, with no health insurance, she watched her hospital bills grow. Supplements, including B-complex, helped her get through the depression, while celebrity friends held benefit concerts to raise money and fans, friends and family sent donations to help alleviate healthcare costs.

It has been a long, arduous road to recovery, Bofill says. “Hard to deal with patience,” she adds. “Too long of a recovery. But I’m grateful. Very grateful for every second I’m alive.”

Keeping the Faith

Today, Bofill lives in Northern California with her sister. Her daughter lives nearby and when she talks about her new grandson, Christopher, who turned 1 in April, her voice is joyful. “He is a wonderful reason to stick around,” she says.

Her simple and honest advice to other stroke survivors is to keep the faith. “Share with people. It helps a lot,” she says. “You need a lot of patience. Be close with family.” Bofill also loves her dogs—a 3-year-old pug named Momo and 13-year-old Max, a Shih Tzu. “They’re great therapy and stress relievers,” she says.

Bofill goes on daily walks and eats healthy foods. Her daughter is a professional chef and stops by to make wholesome meals like tofu burgers on pita—one of her mother’s favorites. Though everything is a little harder to do now, Bofill says she continues working towards goals, such as walking with a cane.

“I ditched the wheelchair,” she laughs. “Don’t like it. Makes me look cripple.”

Bofill’s manager says he hopes to have a movie made of her life and would ultimately like to take The Angela Bofill Experience to Broadway.

When the Washington Post asked Bofill if she thought her singing voice would come back, she said, “God only knows. Rather not sing than sound bad.”

Visit www.angelabofill.com for more information or catch  The Angela Bofill Experience on TVOne’s UnSung on July 2.

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