Jenice Armstrong: Still standing: After strokes, singer Angela Bofill 'grateful to still be alive'

Posted: January 26, 2011

EIGHTIES' SINGING sensation Angela Bofill is coming to Philadelphia this weekend on a concert tour.

Don't look for her to sing, though.

Bofill will be onstage but a stand-in will be doing the vocalizing. Sadly, that silky, golden voice that charmed us with "I Try," "Angel of the Night," and "This Time I'll Be Sweeter" is long gone, a side effect of a series of strokes that knocked Bofill off her feet first in 2006 and then again the following year.

Her high heels are gone too, replaced by a cane for balance. At 57, Bofill's just glad to be able to walk again. And the voice, the voice that charmed a generation, struggles to speak. The words come slowly.

"I am very grateful to still be alive. Almost died," Bofill told me when we spoke earlier this week.

And no doubt grateful to be back onstage. After a long hiatus, Bofill is on the road for a multicity tour that includes stops in Atlanta, New York City and Boston. Because she no longer sings professionally, she will narrate the Angela Bofill Experience at the Keswick Theatre at 8 p.m. Saturday. Maysa, a singer known for her work with the band Incognito, will sing Bofill's hits with Dave Valentin & the Original Angela Bofill Band.

"I'm talking about the songs, a lot of songs I wrote myself, the stories behind the songs," Bofill said haltingly. "After the strokes, my left side is weak."

Bofill was riding in a vehicle in January 2006 when she sensed something was terribly wrong.

"I feel a pop inside the head. The next thing, I'm babbling. It makes no sense. I'm trying to speak. Only babbling. My brother-in-law asked me, 'What happened?' I said, 'I don't know.' I reached my home. I tried to walk outside the truck. Not stand up. Left side shut down. Now, I had to slow my roll."

Bofill spent two weeks in intensive care, and before she was fully recovered, she had another major setback.

"Another stroke hit me. Ugh. In the same place on the right side of the brain. The right side affects the left side. No more, please, God! No more. I have to stay cool. No stress-out. That's very important," she said, adding that her daughter's puppy, Momo, brings her comfort.

After that second stroke, Bofill spent three years in a rehabilitation facility, gradually getting her mobility back using walkers and canes. She needed therapy to learn how to speak again. At this time last year, she was living in Vallejo, Calif., with her sister. Producer Rich Engel, who met Bofill during her heyday, said it was his idea for her to return to the stage.

"She was getting bored sitting around the house," he told me. "She'd be sitting around watching TV all day. I told her either write a book or a script. Get your ass in gear. Get a life. You sit around the house all day, you kind of get stagnant. Now she has something to look forward to."

Because she had no health insurance, Bofill has huge medical bills. Bonnie Raitt and Carlos Santana were among the musicians who performed at benefit concerts that raised funds to help her pay them. Grammy-winning producer Narada Michael Walden, who participated, told the San Jose Mercury News: "Her music has really transcended time."

Her late father, a Cuban-American, suffered multiple strokes before his death seven years ago. Bofill lost her mother, who was Puerto Rican, just before Thanksgiving. The two had spent a lot of time together as the mother recuperated from a heart attack.

Working again is therapeutic for Bofill, who started performing as a high-school student.

"I said, 'Listen, you can't sing. You can still talk and you look good, so put a show together and tell about your experiences,' " Engel recalled. "It's not so tightly scripted that it's like a play. But she talks about [record producer] Clive Davis, her relationship with him. The music is good."

The show received good reviews last summer during its five-show run in San Francisco.

"The catalog is all Angela Bofill music," Engel said. "Dave Valentin is part of the Angela Bofill experience. He was her first boyfriend back in high school. She talks about some of the songs and her experiences. She confesses to the audience that she was a ho starting out. She says she had a thing about drummers. It's kind of funny.

"There are a couple of sad moments, but it's more of a joyful experience than harping on the stroke situation.

"She's self-deprecating," Engel said. "She says, 'I sound like me "Tarzan, you Jane." ' She gets a laugh and she says, 'I'll be a sit-down comedian.' She still has a sense of humor."

Bofill may have lost those famous pipes, but in one of the ironies of life, she developed an appreciation of life's deeper meaning. In hindsight, she suspects that her health issues were God's way of forcing her to take better care of herself.

"Before the stroke, I need a break bad," Bofill recalled. "Touring too much was stressful, too stressful. A stroke is a break."

These days she lives in her sister's home near San Francisco. Her first grandchild is due in April. It's a quiet life.

"I'm rich now," Bofill said. "Family is rich. Family spirit. I'm rich. The small things. No more taking things for granted. Very liberating, as strange as it sounds. I was a better person after the stroke. It changed my life. But I don't wish it on anyone. A stroke is no joke."

Angela Bofill Experience, Keswick Theatre, Easton Road and Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 8 p.m. Saturday, $32.50, www.keswicktheatre.com, 215-572-7650 or Ticketmaster outlets.

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