Phone interview recorded January 5, 2012
The Angel of the Night, Angela Bofill shares some of the history behind her breakthrough debut recording, ANGIE, which is being reissued on SoulMusic.com Records in February 2012...
Michael Lewis: Good day SoulMusic community, this is Michael Lewis. I’m so very happy today to share the mic with one of the legends of soul music, who has her own unique style combining jazz, Latin, R&B and pop. One of the queens of Quiet Storm, the angel of the night: Miss Angie Bofill. How are you today, Angie?
Angela Bofill: Wow, amazing introduction! I’m feeling great.
ML: Great, great. I’m so glad that you managed to persevere through two strokes in 2006 and 2007, and continue to bring your positivity and inspiration to all your fans who love and support you.
AB: Thank you. Me too … I’m happy they’re still here.
ML: Okay, great, great. And I’ve been waiting—oh, about thirty-some years to have this conversation.
AB: Oh, my goodness.
ML: And it’s come to pass as SoulMusic.com Records prepares to reissue your spectacular debut, ANGIE, in February.
ML: And this marks our fifth reissue of yours, because we did your Arista albums, Too Tough and Teaser, in 2008.
ML: Yeah, Let Me Be the One and Tell Me Tomorrow in 2009. We did those in conjunction with Expansion Records in the UK.
AB: Oh, wow.
ML: But this release has a very special place because it represents your premiere to the world, and that was a great time, looking back in 1978. I was just checking to see what some of the hits that were happening. I think at the time when this came out the songs that were ruling the charts were “One Nation Under a Groove” and Chaka’s “I’m Every Woman”; disco was at its height and Chic was having their greatest success with “Le Freak”.
But at the same time I grew up in Los Angeles and we had stations like KACE and KJLH, and they played a really wide variety of music: Stevie Wonder, George Benson, Minnie Riperton, Earth, Wind & Fire, Roberta Flack, Norman Connors … and then you came through with an original sound that was brilliant, spiritual and fully formed. Tell us a little bit about your early musical background that allowed you to create something so magical coming right out?
AB: Well, first song I learned, four years old—complete song—“Magic in the Moonlight,” the Spanish version. I know I'm born to sing, you know?
AB: But later on in high school, joined an all-singing chorus in New York City. I really dig it—I love singing. Tell my mother I want to become a professional singer. Mama told me, better go to college first. Okay. I applied to different music schools, decided to graduate at Manhattan School of Music near my mother’s house.
ML: Very familiar; I used to live next door to Manhattan School of Music right on Claremont.
AB: Yeah. But I graduated, I have a Bachelor of Music. Also I studied classical--four languages sing. Bachelor of Music, I majored in voice. But I graduate. Instead of the paper I perform a recital—a voice major exam, perform a recital—a classical musical recital, four different styles, four languages: Romantic language, Italian, German, English. But in all-singing chorus I met a bunch of people in music and art, all of my musician friends: Buddy Williams, also Francisco Centeno… professional musicians. Francisco Centeno played with Aretha Franklin.
ML: Ashford and Simpson.
AB: Yeah, of course. All New York cats, you know?
AB: Also, I recorded Angie a song--Ashford and Simpson, “Rough Times”.
ML: Right, exactly.
AB: But a classic song--applies today.
ML: Exactly what I was thinking as I was going through these, song by song, which we’ll go through in a minute. But you continue your story.
AB: But I found friends in musicians, singing around, making demos at a studio …studio Boogie-Woogie, my first demo. I wrote “I Try,” “Under the Moon and Over the Sky,” also “Only Thing I Wish For.”
ML: Okay, so those songs were on that first demo that you came out with?
AB: No—first demo, no. That’s funny, but I recorded that song then, but no demo. David Valentin introduced me--Dave Grusin, also Noel Pointer. Noel Pointer signed to Dave Grusin, Rosen, right?
ML: Right, the GRP label.
AB: Yeah. I went to college--Noel Pointer, also attended Manhattan School of Music.
ML: So all these people are your friends. That’s amazing.
AB: Yeah, grow up in New York City—tight clique.
ML: Yeah, exactly.
AB: But Noel Pointer introduced Dave Valentin and Dave Grusin; Dave Valentin introduced me Dave Grusin. But demo: play piano, my singing only [laughs]. But my musician friends already know that song, so it turned out my friends perform my first album.
ML: On the record, right, right. Well, I guess the demo was enough for him to hear what he needed to hear to sign you up.
AB: But yeah, started all up.
ML: I found on iTunes a recording of Ricardo Marrero, an album called A TASTE.
AB: Yes, a Latin music band. Ricardo Marrero also attended Music and Art.
AB: Dave Valentin inside the band also.
ML: I just finished reading Nile Rodgers’ autobiography, and he was talking about growing up partially in New York. Now he’s a little older than you, but he was just talking about how music and art was part of the curriculum in schools then, so I think it was probably easier for people to grow up learning to play music and sing and things like that back then.
AB: Yes, yes, yes… that’s the difference now—no more in the schools, music. That’s why for a … child there was all this rap.
ML: Now I see at one point that you were working with Dance Theatre of Harlem choral group?
AB: Yes, yes—a soloist.
ML: You were a soloist with them?
ML: What was that like?
AB: Incredible. First performance inside a Philadelphia revue. Mitchell started that … incredible.
ML: Arthur Mitchell.
AB: Combined music and dance—awesome. Too bad I [didn’t] study dance.
ML: I think you made the right move—you made the right move. So let’s talk about the recording. Now once you got signed, this was done mostly live?
AB: The recording?
ML: The recording of ANGIE.
AB: Yes. My friends already know music--played the demos. But yeah, Dave Grusin played keyboards, Francisco Centeno on the bass--Steve Gadd, a couple of tracks.
ML: The drummer, yeah.
AB: But Steve Gadd, though incredible drummer and time, but Buddy Williams more understanding music better.
AB: Yeah, smoking rhythm section.
ML: Yeah, the cream of the crop musicians on there.
AB: Yes. Also, I’m singing live but re-overdub later on my vocal. Also after, Dave Grusin sweetened, add strings and horns.
ML: Oh yeah, he created an amazing atmosphere throughout this entire recording. It’s beautiful.
AB: Dave Grusin a genius, really. Musical genius. I’m so lucky I worked with him.
ML: Let’s talk about the songs, because there are eight classic songs on this recording. They all have stood the test of time—they’re just beautiful. The very first one, “Under the Moon and Over the Sky”… what an introduction to the journey.
AB: Yeah, yeah … incredible.
ML: How did this come about? You wrote this song.
AB: Actually, assignment—a music school assignment. Assignment is: write a song, a piece, odd meters. That’s the song I come up with.
ML: And then you get to that percussive breakdown with the Yoruba chant.
ML: I’ve always wondered, what are those words that you’re saying on that?
AB: Probably around a blessing, you know? Health and good vibes. Ashe means health: blessings, health—all good things.
ML: Good fortune, yes. “This Time I’ll Be Sweeter”, which was written by Gwen Guthrie. That song’s been covered over sixty times; the most recent one is by Will Downing just this past month.
ML: Yeah, he just recorded it and this was the single that was released. But I think your version is so heartfelt and just longing … and who can deny someone so blue?
AB: I really sweet now—every morning I take my sugar. I really sweet now!
ML: Now this is written by Gwen, and I know she appears singing background on some of the songs on the record. Did she bring this song to the project, or how did this come to be a part of the project?
AB: Yes. Dave Grusin worked Gwen Guthrie, big-time singer in New York City—session singer in New York City. But Dave Grusin use a lot Gwen Guthrie, Patti Austin…
ML: Oh yeah, the New York Super-Singers with Patti Austin and Gwen Guthrie and Luther and all of them—they all performed on Quincy Jones’ "Stuff Like That" record, and a bunch of other things.
ML: Yeah, I remember that.
AB: Yes, that’s why presented a song--know Dave Grusin. And Gwen Guthrie so sweet—so sweet. I miss her a lot.
ML: Yeah, she’s a great artist all the way around—great singer, great songwriter. I always loved her song “God Don’t Like Ugly” that Roberta Flack did--one of my favourites.
AB: Oh, wow. I like something about the rent?
ML: “Ain't Nothin’ Goin’ On But the Rent.”
AB: Yeah [laughs].
ML: I like that whole CD. I think we may be reissuing that in the near future, but we’ll see. “Baby, I Need Your Love.” That’s another one of your originals.
AB: Yes, inspired by Patti Austin—a big fan of Patti Austin.
ML: Yeah, it has the flavour of the Patti Austin CTI recordings during that time period. I’m listening to that and it’s practically a duet with your buddy Dave who you so prominently feature —Dave Valentin—on that song.
AB: Yes, yes.
ML: You really gave him time to shine on there.
AB: Awesome player. Now we’re touring, Dave Valentin and me, around the country. Angela Bofill Experience coming up next week, Rrazz Room San Fran.
ML: Okay, we’ll get to that … we’ll get to that.
ML: I wanted to bring that up in a little bit.
AB: Still Dave Valentin best friend of mine … still.
ML: That’s great. Through all the years, that’s a wonderful thing. You just mentioned earlier “Rough Times,” the Ashford and Simpson song. And lyrically, this song could have been written today.
ML: “People trying to get over everywhere/rough times they are here.”
AB: Yeah, a classic message … timeless.
ML: Classic, timeless Nick Ashford lyrics. Never to be forgotten. And that song has that whole Ashford and Simpson rhythm section, and it reminds me of “Don’t Cost You Nothing.” it has that same kind of driving … with Francisco’s bass driving that; Ralph MacDonald, Steve Gadd, Eric Gale—that whole crew was the same musicians that Ashford and Simpson used.
AB: Yeah, New York City cats.
ML: The finest, absolutely. “The Only Thing I Would Wish For,” another one of your originals. Was that one of your demo songs?
AB: I recorded a demo of that, but no …
ML: It wasn’t one of the ones that you brought at the beginning?
AB: No. I played it live. I used to play piano, and use a piano write my songs. Dave Grusin production meeting--me and Dave were in there playing my songs live.
ML: That’s another good standout performance from Dave Valentin as well.
ML: The song “Summer Days.” Do you remember where that one came from?
AB: A writer--Timothy, unknown songwriter. I like the song because New York City summer days are hot as hell—oh, I’m sorry.
ML: It’s an easygoing, nice, mellow song. Kind of bittersweet, because right now I’m wishing it was a summer day because it’s kind of cold here in Maryland where I am.
AB: Oh, my God.
ML: You long for those summer days.
AB: East Coast--freezing.
ML: And Eric Gale’s guitar on that song is a really nice touch as well.
AB: Yes, yes, I love Eric Gale.
ML: Then we have “Share Your Love.” That was written by—
AB: My friend Derrick Hoitsma, now Derek Jordan—he changed Hoitsma to Jordan.
ML: That has kind of a samba feel to it.
AB: Yes. Derek Jordan a big fan of Stevie Wonder. But a prolific songwriter, Derek Jordan—a lot of songs. I picked that one because a great message: share your love with the world.
ML: Yeah absolutely, like all your songs. And then the last song on the record was “Children of the World United.” That’s an anthem … that’s an anthem.
AB: Also, background singing a chorus— all city chorus sings background.
ML: And the horns with the choral, it’s just a tremendous finale.
AB: Yes. After I write this song, God gave me a record deal.
ML: Okay, like that was your …
ML: Your signature, yeah.
AB: God told me, “Get the message out: Love.” Okay.
ML: I’m glad you listened. Now do you remember when the record came out, how did the record company and the industry treat you as this was rolling out? Did you get a lot of support?
ML: TV appearances, concert tours … what was it like back then for you?
AB: Wow! A whirlwind. I appeared a lot of TV shows: Dinah Shore, Merv Griffin, rest [his] soul. Merv Griffin big supporter of me. Wow… incredible, really. I met Clive Davis, bought GRP—Arista bought GRP. But I met Clive Davis before; a coincidence.
ML: Oh really?
AB: Yeah. Buddy Williams played in one of Arista’s acts—keyboard player/wife duo. Last name …?
ML: I don’t know. Keyboard player?
AB: Yeah, a keyboard…
AB: Yes, last name…married the singer of … forget the name of the singer. I went to see him in concert, a big concert at City Center, but Buddy Williams forgot to leave a ticket for me at box office. I’m crying… a man, a elegant man ask me, “What wrong?” I explain, “My boyfriend supposed to leave a ticket in the….” He give me a ticket. It turn out Clive Davis!
ML: Oh man, that’s a great story.
AB: After the show backstage I’m mad as heck because Buddy Williams forgot to leave a ticket for me. Introduced myself to Clive Davis. Buddy told me, “This is Clive Davis. Oh my God!” “Oh, hello.” I don’t know, you know?
ML: That’s a good story … that’s a great story. So let’s bring it back to the present now. What’s on the horizon for you? You said that you have the Angela Bofill Experience shows coming.
AB: Yes, yes. Coming back next week, Rrazz Room, a San Fran hotel. Also Melba Moore appearing with me—Melba Moore, another New York chick.
ML: Yeah, absolutely.
AB: Also my friend played with Melba Moore also. Melba Moore is so sweet. Excited, a little bit nervous, but natural—all the time before a performance, a little bit excited.
ML: So is she going to be doing the other shows, because I see there are other shows coming up in New York? And I know you’re coming over this way to the Birchmere in Virginia not far from me.
AB: I think Virginia is Maysa—another amazing vocalist, Maysa.
ML: When you started doing these a couple of years ago, Maysa’s the one who did it with you, right?
AB: Yes, yes.
ML: Great. Now when you last spoke to my partner Darnell, back in 2010, just before you started doing the Experience, you weren’t quite Facebook-proficient. But I see you’ve changed that, huh?
ML: You got a little more active?
AB: Yeah, but you know [laughs].
ML: Well, thank you so much for spending some time with us today. I really am so glad to see you still pursuing your love, your art, and I wish you the best.
AB: Yes, and this time a message: every moment counts.
ML: Yes, absolutely.
AB: Every second, moment to moment, because I never know. Also, I wear a stroke warning, I want to tell about a warning, a stroke… prevent a stroke. My diabetes and high blood pressure, recipe for stroke. Take the ….
ML: Absolutely, it’s a good message to spread. Thank you so much.
AB: Thank you.
ML: Okay, thank you. Peace and blessings, my sister.
AB: You coming the show? At Birchmere?
ML: Yes, I will see you in the Birchmere.
ML: All right.
AB: Thank you.
ML: Take care, now.
AB: You, too. Happy New Year.
ML: Happy New Year, all right. Bye-bye.
About the Writer
Michael Lewis is a long-time associate at SoulMusic.com. His industry experience includes Sony Music, Motown and La Face Records, and a tenure at HEAR Music. He is grateful to contribute to sustaining the legacy of R&B and soul music.