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An enterprising Berklee pianist’s next gig: Live at the Apollo

Kofi Boakye, 22, is preparing for his second shot at the Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night.Brian McWilliams

When Kofi Boakye was 4 years old, he loved to watch himself on TV. He’d dance on camera to his favorite music. (At the time it was the debut album from Clay Aiken, a breakout star of “American Idol’s” second season.) Then he’d plug the family’s camcorder into the television set to watch himself on the videotape.

“My mom always told me I came out of the womb programmed,” Boakye says, smiling.

Raised the youngest of three boys by a single mother in Akron, Ohio, Boakye has made the most of every opportunity he’s been given, and some he had to take for himself. At 15, the budding pianist was accepted into the University of Akron’s School of Music. A few years ago, he raised $50,000 in a crowd-funding campaign to finance his first year at Berklee College of Music.


Now, at 22, he’s preparing for his second shot at the Apollo Theater’s historic Amateur Night. On Feb. 16, Boakye will compete in the Harlem theater’s first Amateur Night event in nearly two years, which will stream live on the venue’s YouTube and Facebook pages.

In 2019, Boakye reached the competition’s final round. His confidence is high as he gears up for his return.

“I’m obsessive over it right now,” he says during a recent Zoom interview. He’s been auditioning for various opportunities for years; his work ethic is impressive.

“It’s more about the mental edge,” he says. Amateur Night, which has helped launch hundreds of careers, from Ella Fitzgerald’s and Billie Holiday’s to those of Lauryn Hill and D’Angelo, famously rates performances by audience response.

“There’s 1,500 judges,” Boakye says.

Whatever the results of his return to the Apollo, Boakye has another potential big break coming up. Though the producers tell him he’s not yet at liberty to disclose the project, he recently filmed a scene as a piano player in a major upcoming musical biopic. They found him through Angela Perry’s Boston Casting.


For now, he’s taking a semester off from Berklee. The Amateur Night grand prize is $20,000, which would come in handy toward his tuition.

On Sundays, he plays organ in the band at Morning Star Baptist Church in Mattapan. He recently filmed a short video at the church to tell his story.

When he launched his first fundraiser back in Akron, at first “there was a lot of pushback,” he says. “People didn’t think it was possible. But I couldn’t [raise that much money] by just selling candy, or having a bake sale. I needed to think a lot bigger.”

As he did at the Apollo in 2019, he plans to perform his version of “Say Yes,” the 2003 hit by Floetry, the female R&B duo from London. It’s a sexy song, but to Boakye, it’s also an affirmation of his own belief in himself.

“I’m always trying to find that one ‘yes,’ “ he says.

For more information on Kofi Boakye, go to www.kofibmusic.com. Email James Sullivan at jamesgsullivan@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.