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Akron pianist Kofi Boakye reflects on his breakout year, from the big screen to the Apollo stage

Akron musician Kofi Boakye poses for a portrait
Ramahn Wilder
Really Goody Studios
Akron native Kofi Boakye, age 23, has seen glimpses of stardom this past year. Performing as Kofi B, the pianist took home the grand prize at the Apollo Amateur Night competition, appeared in a Hollywood film and was nominated for two Emmy awards.

Nicknamed “the other kid from Akron,” Kofi Boakye—who performs professionally as Kofi B—took his talents from Northeast Ohio to Berklee College of Music in 2019 to hone his skills as a pianist, producer and songwriter.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the young musician moved from Boston back to Akron, shifting his focus from “schooling to surviving”.

In 2022, new opportunities came knocking that launched Boakye into the national spotlight.

“At the time, I was submitting things for a number of different talent competitions,” Boakye said. “One day I got a random email, and they say, ‘Congratulations, you've been selected to be a part of Amateur Night at the Apollo.’ And that started my Apollo journey.”

Boakye traveled to Harlem, New York, to play the famed Apollo Historic Theater.

He performed the Floetry song “Say Yes” as the only instrumentalist in the competition. Boakye was named the winner and took home the $20,000 grand prize.

Boakye, who was also the runner-up at the competition in 2019, said last year felt like it was his time to win.

“The Apollo theater is the epicenter of Black excellence,” Boakye said. “The Apollo has opened the doors for so many people—Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald, Whitney Houston, even modern-day artists like H.E.R., Machine Gun Kelly. I mean, the list goes on and on. And now you can say my name in that, too.”

From the live stage to the silver screen

Performing at the Apollo and winning the competition wasn’t the only milestone Boakye achieved in 2022.

Akron musician Kofi Boakye sits on a stool resting against a keyboard
Matthew Jay Photography
Kofi Boakye raised $50,000 to attend Berklee College of Music in 2019. The musician now spends his time between Boston and Akron.

A year prior, Boakye launched a media production company called BlaBoak Ventures, a blend of his family names Bland and Boakye.

His company produced a televised musical performance and political interview that were both nominated for Emmy Awards from the Great Lakes Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

Then, Hollywood came calling.

“A random supporter of mine, that doesn't live in Ohio, reached out or sent a message to me on Instagram and it just said, ‘Pianist wanted for a movie,’” Boakye said.

Boakye submitted a video of his Apollo performance and received a call from a casting director.

“She said, ‘You know, they want you for a Whitney movie. They want you,’” Boakye said.

The film, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” stars Naomi Ackie as Whitney Houston and premiered in December 2022.

Boakye was tapped to perform piano in one of the biopic’s scenes, which was filmed in Boston.

“We were able to put together a really successful day of shooting that scene, and the rest is history,” Boakye said. “I did some of the music for the movie. I mean, a phone call like that really just changed my life.”

The journey to stardom

Prior to his breakout year, Boakye was the youngest Black pianist to enroll at the University of Akron School of Music’s jazz program at age 15.

He raised $50,000 while living in Akron to attend Berklee and moved to Boston to pursue his dreams of becoming an entrepreneur, investor and media talent.

In a 2019 Shuffle interview, Boakye said, “If you surround me around the best musicians in the world who play at the highest level and want to be nothing short of excellent, how can you not expect me to succeed and be motivated and do great things in that position?”

While living in Boston, he landed a salaried position playing music at a local church.

“But then rent got a little expensive, and I realized that maybe the cost of living might be more efficient if I fly back and forth. So, I moved back to Ohio,” he said.

Now, Boakye spends time between Boston and Akron with a focus on performing as much as possible and achieving the goals he set for himself.

“What I aim to do is just to continue to nail every opportunity I have and every expectation I set for myself in my life,” he said. “There's no detailed plan, there's no detailed destination. But, you know, there is an anticipation and an expectation that I have for myself. And that's every time I do whatever I said I'm going to do; I'm going to nail it.”

Boakye said he put in a decade of consistent hard work to achieve what he has since he was a teenager.

“I think a lot of people just see what's going on now and they think, ‘Oh, wow, he's just an overnight sensation,’ Boakye said. “I'm just getting started, but it's a pretty cool journey right now.”

Keeping his Akron roots

Boakye credits the support of his family and community for helping launch his career in music, especially his mother, Carolyn Bland-Boakye, who encouraged him to sign up for piano lessons when he was 8 years old.

He said growing up with two brothers and a single mother in Akron, Ohio, he wanted to exceed people’s expectations of what his future might look like.

“I choose to just be the adverse of that, as well as my two older brothers. As much as [my mom is] proud of us, I'm immoderately proud of her,” he said.

“I hope that there's another other kid from Akron coming up. You know, this is not just a ‘me’ thing. It's a ‘we’ thing.”
Kofi Boakye

Boakye began his first mini “Just Play It” tour last year, making stops in cities like Los Angeles and Houston. He plans to keep performing around the world.

“I think the beauty of this journey is that, you know, it's coming to me organically. But the work is still being done,” he said.

Like LeBron James, Boakye said Akron will always be part of his story.

“I can't be who I am today if I didn't learn from what my hometown taught me and let me be the person to carry that torch and consistently still show this world what kids from Akron can do,” he said. “I hope that there's another other kid from Akron coming up. You know, this is not just a ‘me’ thing. It's a ‘we’ thing.”

Expertise: Audio storytelling, journalism and production
Brittany Nader is the producer of "Shuffle" on Ideastream Public Media. She joins "All Things Considered" host Amanda Rabinowitz on Thursdays to chat about Northeast Ohio’s vibrant music scene.