Her sound was inviting, passion-soaked, beautifully soulful. But where did it fit exactly? It was 1978 and disco was king, ruling the R&B; charts, where Angela Bofill, an ebony-eyed, full-lipped Latina from the West Bronx, found an immediate home. Alongside beat-driven albums by Instant Funk, Donna Summer, Chic and Sister Sledge, Bofill's debut, Angie, stood out on the listings for its eclecticism: a classy, intelligent mix of African chants, smooth jazz and uptown soul.
Angel of the Night, her sophomore effort, appeared nine months after Angie and was a bigger smash, featuring the Quiet Storm, self-penned classic "I Try." She had arrived and didn't need to find a place to fit. Bofill had made her own.
"With music, it never seems like work to me," says the jazzy soul stylist, who's phoning from her Northern California home. "But I'm always working, which is a good thing."
Bofill, who will play Rams Head Tavern tonight, has been absent from the charts for the past 15 years. After her stellar first two albums, the artist mostly puttered through the '80s and '90s, dropping fine singles here and there -- most notably "Too Tough," "I'm On Your Side" and "Tonight I Give In." But artistically, Bofill was inconsistent and never really delivered on the promise of Angie and Angel of the Night, which were re-released by BMG in 2001, replete with detailed liner notes and digitally remastered sound. Something About You, Bofill's 1981 hit album, was repackaged and re-issued in 2002. And last year, a succinct retrospective appeared as part of BMG's Platinum & Gold series.
"I was like, 'Hey, still looking good,'" Bofill says, referring to the re-issued work. "I was delighted that they put the music back out there. I get a lot of e-mails from 16- and 18-year-old fans saying, 'I love your music.' And I know their mamas and daddies were playing the stuff. Then again, the old stuff is out there again."
Raised in New York City, Bofill, 49, always dreamed about a singing career. Music filled the house. Her Cuban father was once a featured singer with the famed Latin bandleader Machito. And her Puerto Rican mother played Celia Cruz, Dinah Washington and Dionne Warwick records day in and day out. At 12, Bofill began writing songs, and while in high school, she formed the Puerto Rican Supremes. The act performed in churches and local dances.
After graduating from the Manhattan School of Music, the artist pursued a performance career full-time. In 1975, Bofill wrote a jazz suite, the shimmering "Under the Moon and Over the Sky," which she first performed with the Brooklyn Academy of Music. A mystic number about universal love with a sweeping chorus of Yoruban chants, "Under the Moon and Over the Sky," the lead cut on Angie, has become a fan favorite.
"That was the day when everything was so cosmic," Bofill says, laughing, "and that was my cosmic moment."
In early '78, Bofill landed a contract with GRP Records and entered the studio with producers Dave Grusin and Larry Rosen. Her first hit, "This Time I'll Be Sweeter," an aching remake of a Roberta Flack chestnut, helped make her debut one of the biggest contemporary jazz albums of '78.
But as the '80s dawned, Bofill left GRP for Arista Records, which distributed the smaller label at the time. Clive Davis, the legendary producer and Arista chieftain, set out to make the singer a pop star. Bofill certainly had the look and the pipes. However, the material -- poppy, synth-driven dance tunes mostly -- didn't serve her talents well. Throughout the '80s, Bofill hit the charts sporadically. There was always a gem or two on such heavily produced albums as Teaser (1983) and Let Me Be the One (1984). But Arista often promoted inferior tracks, and Bofill's recording career never flowered into what it could have been.
But that doesn't mean her tour schedule over the past 20 years has suffered at all. Known for years as a theatrical, stirring live performer, Bofill has appeared in several gospel plays and toured the globe.
"I've been to Africa in the last three years," she says. "And I've been working with my daughter, Shauna Bofill, who's 19 and trying to put a CD out."
One of the first successful Latina singers in the R&B; / pop realm, Bofill, who isn't on a label these days, is still full of musical ideas 25 years after her first album made a splash.
"I hope to do some scores and get more into the audio-visual thing," she says. "I love the producing thing, too. It's a whole new area to explore. Please, you haven't heard the last of Angela Bofill."
Which is a good thing for all of us.
Bofill plays Annapolis' Rams Head Tavern, 33 West St., tonight at 8:30. Tickets are $35. Call 410-268-4545 or visit ticket ing.ramsheadtavern.com.