Fans of 1980s soul will recall Angela Bofill, the chanteuse who sang such hits as the 1983 dance floor burner "Too Tough" as well as heart wrenching ballads such as "I Try." However, Bofill is also an unappreciated jazz singer who could scat and boasted an impressive vocal range. Her 1978 debut album Angie showcases her songwriting and vocal abilities, demonstrating that Bofill's talent encompasses dance, R&B, jazz, pop, and Latin influences. Nowhere are these skills more evident that the almost six-minute track "Under the Moon and Over the Sky," a jazz fusion workout that deserves greater attention.
Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1954, Bofill was exposed to music at a young age: her Cuban father once performed with Machito, a legendary Latin jazz musician who helped develop Afro-Cuban jazz. After studying classical music and singing in a city chorus, Bofill embarked on a professional singing career, eventually befriending jazz flautist Dave Valentin. At the time, Valentin was working for GRP Records, a label cofounded by producer David Rosen and jazz keyboardist Dave Grusin. Learning that GRP was looking for new artists, Valentin persuaded Bofill to submit a demo tape; Rosen and Grusin subsequently signed the singer and produced her first effort, 1978's Angie. The album performed particularly well with R&B audiences, with the disc spawning the number 23 hit "This Time I'll be Sweeter" (cowritten by Gwen Guthrie, best known for her 1986 dance classic "Ain't Nothin' Goin' on but the Rent"). Bofill's followup, Angel of the Night, fared even better, with the Latin-influenced title track and the torch ballad "I Try" becoming her signature songs.
After hearing "I Try," Arista head Clive Davis signed Bofill to his label and paired her with songwriter/producer Narada Michael Walden. Their first collaborative effort, 1981's Something About You, performed modestly on the charts. After Walden retooled her material to sound more contemporary and dance-oriented, Bofill finally achieved her biggest hit: "Too Tough," a rhythm-heavy track that reached number five on the R&B charts and peaked at number two on the dance chart. Also propelled by the popular ballad "Tonight I Give In," the album sold well with R&B audiences and finally cracked the Top 40. Too Tough would mark her commercial peak; after three more less successful albums with Arista, she left the label and recorded one disc for Capitol, 1988's Intuition. She released two more albums in the 1990s through independent labels and a live album, Live from Manila, in 2006. Bofill's singing career was sadly halted, however, when she suffered two strokes in 2006 and 2007. Now unable to sing, she still appears in front of fans in the Angela Bofill Experience, a show where guest vocalists such as Maysa and Melba Moore croon Bofill's signature tracks as Bofill narrates her life story.
While Bofill no longer performs, fans can still enjoy her music through her numerous albums. While Angel of the Night and Too Tough are solid efforts, Angie reveals her deep jazz roots, and her composition "Over the Moon and Under the Sky" is a journey through her father's Cuban jazz background. The intricate percussion and difficult chord changes reflect Bofill's sophisticated songwriting skills. Beginning in a mellow tone, the song's soft keyboards and flute float over the light percussion, spotlighting Bofill's vocals and poetic lyrics. "Like the wings of a bird / My heart soaring way up high," she softly sings, her voice also soaring over the arrangement.
The most impressive section of the track allows her to reveal a talent not always present in her later work--scatting. As backing singers repeat lines in a foreign language, Bofill uses her voice as an instrument, imitating the flute and intricate Latin percussion as those two elements move to the song's forefront. As "Over the Moon and Under the Sky" fades out, Bofill explores her upper range, revealing a style similar to Minnie Riperton's piercing notes.
Bofill may be best known for her biggest hit--a club classic--but her early work exemplifies her interpretive skills and diverse musical background. Experience "Over the Moon and Under the Sky" as well as the entire Angie album, and learn why Bofill remains one of the most underrated vocalists in R&B.