Akron pianist Kofi Boakye wins grand $20,000 prize in Apollo Theater competition

Akron native and pianist Kofi Boakye wins the $20,000 grand prize in the Amateur Night at the Apollo finals Nov. 23.
Akron native and pianist Kofi Boakye wins the $20,000 grand prize in the Amateur Night at the Apollo finals Nov. 23.

Pianist Kofi Boakye of Akron had a lot to be thankful for just before Thanksgiving, when he won the final round of Amateur Night at the Apollo, taking home the $20,000 grand prize.

That's exactly what the 23-year-old set out to do this year when he entered the first round of the competition in February, winning that round and moving through the second rounds in March and July before last week's final.

Through to the finals:'This journey...has been incredible': Akron's Kofi Boakye wins semifinals at Apollo

The amateur finals were a sellout at the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York.

"It was a really packed show. That was the most energy I think I've ever seen there," said Boakye, who has performed at the Apollo nine times now.

That included getting through to the final round of the amateur competition in 2019 and also playing in the Amateur Night Holiday Special that year.

This year, to top off his grand prize win, he'll perform again Dec. 10 at the Apollo's holiday special.

Boakye continues in Apollo competition:Akron native Kofi Boakye keeps up momentum with second-place win at Apollo

Last week, Boakye competed against a field of eight other finalists, with seven who were singers and one who was a singer/guitarist. Boakye was the only one who did only instrumentals, playing again the song that had gotten him that far ― his signature version of "Say Yes" by Floetry.

Boakye garnered the top score from the Apollo's famed noise meter, which gauges the volume of the audience's response. Two other competitors scored a 93.

"It was super close. The whole night was close," Boakye said of the stiff competition in the global event. "You had a lot of powerhouse vocalists up there that were doing exceptionally well and I'm grateful the audience chose me."

Kofi Boakye's biggest fans cheer him on at Apollo Theater

Pianist Kofi Boakye of Akron performs in the finals of Amateur Night at the Apollo, which he won Nov. 23.
Pianist Kofi Boakye of Akron performs in the finals of Amateur Night at the Apollo, which he won Nov. 23.

His mother, Carolyn Bland-Boakye, and stylist, Candence Clopton, were in the audience to cheer him to victory. The latter designed him a jacket of metallic silver and gold with an iridescent red fabric inside and black and gold buttons.

Boakye, his mother and Clopton prayed at the hotel before the competition.

"She always tell me 'pray before you play,' " Boakye said.

The musician said his mother was overjoyed by his win, as have been a lot of well wishers upon his return to Akron for the holiday weekend.

Kofi Boakye's nerves kicked in before finals performance

Boakye said he always researches the competition ahead of time and has watched hours and hours of winning Apollo performances, which helped him feel confident heading into the finals.

"During the night, I had a sense of calmness just because I had been there before. I had been in the final round before," he said.

Boakye's nerves only kicked in when it was time for him to go on as the last performer.

Through the first round:Akron's Boakye brings home first-round win from Apollo

"You realize the pressure's all on you now. You're in a great position to really win this thing, but it's a tough pill to swallow if you don't," he said.

"It felt like I was playing for a higher cause. Attaining that grand prize was such a goal for me and my family," he said. "I knew that grand prize was really for my future."

His winning performance at the Apollo is already going viral on Instagram after going up Sunday night, with more than 56,000 play views Monday. Boakye's winning performance and other videos can be seen on Instagram @kofibmusic.

Kofi Boakye's plans for future after Apollo win

The musician is a graduate of Akron Early College at the University of Akron who crowdfunded his freshman year at Berklee College of Music in Boston in 2019-20 before the pandemic cut his studies short.

Boakye said he'll continue to focus on his social media content, which has seen rapid growth in the last year, as well as creating music. He also envisions moving to the Los Angeles area in the next year.

"I think I can just continue to build this thing from my phone," said the musician, who plans to focus more on his professional career at this point rather than continuing his efforts to return to Berklee.

"Now I think the biggest focus is just going and diving into the professional career and pushing a lot of the professional work that I've already been starting," he said. "I think I'm still trying to process the moment before I can plan for the future."

Second chance:Akron's Kofi Boakye seizes moment for second shot in Amateur Night at the Apollo

Last summer, Boakye and his band went on a mini-tour. The musician, who's based in Boston but spends a good part of his time in Akron, also renovated an empty space in North Hill over the summer into his production studio, where he and his band have filmed videos of their work together, which combined have gotten nearly 400,000 views. One of the musicians is from Atlanta and four are from the Akron area.

"The winner had to be a kid from Akron. That's just crazy to me," he said.

Arts and restaurant writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Akron's Kofi Boakye wins $20,000 in Apollo Amateur Night competition