Jazz singer Angela Bofill makes a comeback without voice that made her famous

Changes: Angela Bofill, whose R&B and jazz songs topped the charts in the '70s and '80s, told stories Sunday while some of her hits were performed by Maysa, front, for the crowd at the Birchmere in Alexandria.
Changes: Angela Bofill, whose R&B and jazz songs topped the charts in the '70s and '80s, told stories Sunday while some of her hits were performed by Maysa, front, for the crowd at the Birchmere in Alexandria. (Jahi Chikwendiu)
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By DeNeen L. Brown
Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Angela Bofill waits in a plain, beige dressing room at the Birchmere, preparing to go onstage without something she has lost.

It's not a small thing. Most people, says one fan of the '80s R&B balladeer, would shut down, would be content to live out their lives offstage, out of the spotlight, wherever it is that old singers go to fade away. The music business demands perfection. A certain look.

At the least, it demands a voice.

"I love perform," says Bofill, 56, her syntax fractured, her rhythm stop-and-start. She's illuminated by bright lights but not an ounce of glitter or sequins. Instead, she wears a black-print blazer. A cane leans against the dressing table.

"I used to study opera. Used to teach voice. Used to have perfect pitch. Now, no pitch. Bad pitch. Frustrated - little bit. Half my life, singing. First time. No sing."

She says she sounds like an old movie. "Me, Tarzan. You, Jane," she jokes.

Outside in the dark, cold parking lot, a sold-out crowd lines up for Sunday night's show: "The Angela Bofill Experience." After two strokes and a five-year absence from the stage, Bofill's name is again on the marquee. Fans have come from as far away as New Jersey, some cradling Bofill's original albums, which show an absolutely gorgeous woman.

Bofill closes her eyes as a makeup artist paints on thick black liner. Not many entertainers would have the courage to do what Bofill is about to do. Not many would be so bold.

"I feel happy performing again," Bofill says. "I need crowd. In the blood, entertain. Any time a crowd comes to see me, I'm surprised. No sing no more and still people come. Wow. Impressed." She laughs.

But before she will get to the stage, she has to get out of the chair. She leans forward. No. She leans forward again. "I conquer my chair - damn it! Nose over the toes. Nose over toes." Up. She grabs her cane, covered in butterflies. "I love the cane. Mother told me J. Lo uses cane dancing. Sweet!"

Behind the wall, she can hear the singer Maysa onstage performing Bofill's signature hit, "Angel of the Night." Maysa's voice is big and powerful, blowing through the thin walls of the dressing room.

There is a flash of envy from Bofill. "Used to play timbale to that song before the stroke," Bofill says. "Now, cowbell." Her big brown eyes look down. "Oh, well. One day, this arm awake. I don't know. Strange disease, stroke. Before no idea why person walk funny. Now, I get it - stroke."


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