Thanks to a New Health Regimen, Jazz Singer Angela Bofill's Career Is Cooking and She's Not
It’s clear that Angela Bofill is not your standard pop music star from the gifts fans press upon her backstage: no vows of undying passion, or sacks of controlled substances, or even flowers. They bring her bunches of carrots, and to Bofill nothing could be more appropriate. After years in choruses and backup groups, she has a hit; her current album, Something About You, is in the top five on jazz charts. She credits the turning point in her career in part to a new health-and-nutrition regimen of yoga, exercise and a diet that includes no cooked foods. Instead she drinks gallons of carrot juice, sometimes mixed with beet, cabbage or spinach juice. The raw-food diet supports a new philosophy. “Nobody makes you unhappy,” as she puts it. “You make yourself unhappy.”
A vegetarian for five years, Bofill, 27, recently checked into a Boston health clinic for two weeks. She lost 15 pounds from her 5’10” frame and any desire to go back to cooked food. She has also dropped dairy products from her menu and claims it increased her singing range four notes. (Milk and cheese produce excess mucus, she says, that clogs vocal cords.) “I feel wonderful,” gushes Angela. “I grow my own sprouts, buckwheat lettuce, sunflower seeds and wheat grass. [Jazz pianist] Thelonious Monk’s wife, Nellie, got me into juices. I figure the way to make a change in this world is to start with yourself.”
Bofill’s father, a Cuban-born singer, moved to New York in 1929 and gave up music after Angela was born. “My sister and my mother told him he would have to get a job and support us,” she says. “He was a dockworker for 28 years before he died last November.” His sacrifice paid off. While the family lived part of the time in the devastated West Bronx (and Angela lost a kidney to nephritis at age 9), her childhood was largely a protected one. She began singing at the age of 4 and started piano and vocal lessons at 10. At Hunter College High School she was chosen for New York’s All-City Chorus and on weekends sang with a group calling itself the Puerto Rican Supremes.
Her parents were supportive, but her mother insisted she continue her education. A year at the Hartt College of Music in Connecticut persuaded her to transfer to the Manhattan School of Music. “I was bummed out because I wanted the action in New York,” she says. “I spent weekends commuting from Hartford to singing club dates with a Latin salsa band.” After getting her degree in voice, Bofill did backup work, sang in the Dance Theatre of Harlem chorus and worked briefly with Dizzy Gillespie. “In two years,” she sighs, “I think I grossed a grand total of $3,000. My mother would buy my stage clothes if I had a gig.”
Then jazz flutist Dave Valentin, an old friend from her salsa days, brought her to audition for arranger Dave Grusin. He had just started his own label, GRP, and ended up producing her first two albums, Angle and Angel of the Night. The critical and public praise was enough for her to become an opening act for Al Jarreau, Lonnie Liston Smith and Gil Scott-Heron.
The Bofill-Grusin collaboration faltered. “I was just in love with his stuff and I kind of fell in love with him a little bit too,” she reflects. “We made some beautiful records together, but I wanted to be on my own and have my own choice of producers.”
There are no such problems with her current executive producer, Clive Davis. He made some forceful suggestions during her recording sessions, and “If Something About You is a success,” she says, “it’s because of his ‘meddling.’ ” She can’t resist adding, though: “I think I write better songs than he thinks I do.”
Bofill met the new man in her nonprofessional life at the Boston health clinic. She won’t disclose his name (“The romance is so new I don’t want to blow it”) but is pleased that he too is fond of sprouts: “I kept asking the Lord when I was going to find a man into raw food.” Marriage? “I don’t want to end up having to get divorced,” she says. “But I would like a family.” If that sounds as if she might consider unwed motherhood, she suggests she would. “I think God would sanction that.”
Bofill has big career plans: working with Diana Ross (“I haven’t seen the Broadway play Dreamgirls yet, but I would loooove to do the movie if Diana’s in it”) and with Stevie Wonder. “He is to pop what Bach was to baroque,” she says. “Our voices would sound great together. At least they do when I sing along with his records.”
Angela is so up these days that her manager, Vincent Romeo, calls her “the most positive thing I’ve ever met in my life—she is pretty close to a religious experience.” Bofill might agree. “I used to have fluctuations in my moods, and I knew it was physical,” she says. “Nine times out of 10 I was constipated. Now when I see people depressed I tell them, ‘Hey, man, drink some carrot juice, and call me in the morning!’ ”