Tonight's the Night for APS Grad

A Night at the Apollo
Posted on 02/15/2022
Image of Kofi Boakye at Apollo(Damon Maloney for Cleveland19.com/WOIO TV)

Wednesday night, Akron native Kofi Boakye will be under the spotlights competing on Amateur Night at the Apollo at the world famous Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York.

The 22-year-old pianist has been on the Apollo stage before but this time hoping to be crowned the winner of the competition and its $20,000 prize. It’s the return of the competition which has been sidelined for nearly three-years because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Live music is back ... and I’m ready to put on a show,” Boakye said. The Cleveland Orchestra allowed 19 News inside of Chamber Hall at Severance Music Center to interview Boakye and hear him play.

“How does music impact you when you’re on the keys-- where are you mentally?” asked 19 News This Morning Anchor Damon Maloney.

“I’m usually at my highest level of confidence,” Boakye said. “Nobody can stop me when I’m in that moment. I always think that when you’re in a position where you’re able to love what you do ... show that you love what you do and connect to others.”

That type of confidence hasn’t always been for Boakye. He was raised by a single mother and grew up in public housing.

No stranger to challenges, Boakye has always shown a determination to make life work in his favor.

He started taking piano lessons while in elementary school.

“I remember the first class. I hated it. I couldn’t stand it. But the teacher pulled me aside, looked at my hands and said, ‘No, I see something in you. There’s more in you,’” Boakye recalled. “Growing up in a single parent household without a father, I never heard those words before. That’s how music changed my life.”

He’s garnered many accolades including: Youngest African-American pianist to ever be accepted ... into The University of Akron’s School of Music’s Jazz Program. He’s won national awards including honors from the NAACP and President Barack Obama and earned a regional EMMY nomination for a documentary about his life.

Boakye’s skills, smarts and determination got him into Berklee College of Music in Boston. He crowdfunded to supplement a partial scholarship in order to finish his first year of classes.

The unforeseen coronavirus pandemic forced Boakye to pause his education.

“Right now, I’m trying to re-fundraise money to get back to Berklee. Education is key, and it’s important. So, $20,000 is (the) grand prize, I think they can help,” Boakye said.

“What does it mean for you to be an African-American, and particularly an African American male, in 2022?” Maloney asked. “We’ve had this conversation in the newsroom about Black history being living history, not just what our parents or grandparents or ancestors have been through.”

“There’s such a great history of those before us who have suffered and even have gone through things ... make sure that African Americans, like myself can have the opportunities that I have today,” Boakye said. “But it’s my job to also create a new narrative of what a Black man in America is. Oftentimes, we get that stigma on us that we can’t achieve greater. That we can’t do better. I don’t live by that notion. I live by the notion of -- I believe anything that I say I can do.”

Boakye said he wants to use his platform to do more than just music.

“I see myself doing a little bit everything. I look at guys like LeBron James and Maverick Carter from my hometown of Akron who use their platform to branch out into other things. So you got guys like LeBron, who do basketball, but he’s also directing movies. He’s in movies, he’s owning things, and that’s what I want. I want that equity,” Boakye said. “I want that, that ownership.”

Boakye said at the end of the day he wants people to feel empowered by what he does in life and on stage.

“I hope somebody walks away feeling inspired by what i do.”

His story is nowhere finished. There’re still too many notes to play.

Image of Kofi Boakye at Apollo
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