In the span of a life marked by tragedy, Leroy K. Wofford turned to blues to soothe his aching heart and hoped his voice would help others, too.
"The way he felt is that music heals the soul," said his niece, Zaneen Brown. "The more people he could reach, the more people he could help."
Mr. Wofford, who sang his way to prominence on the Pittsburgh jazz and blues circuit, met his own tragic end Sunday afternoon when he died a day and a half after being shot at his home in Lincoln-Lemington.
Pittsburgh police said Mr. Wofford called 911 about 1:30 a.m. Saturday saying that he'd been shot.
He told police that two black men had knocked on his door and when he answered, one had been brandishing a gun. When he attempted to close the door, one fired a shot through the door, said Commander Thomas Stangrecki. The bullet pierced his left shoulder and entered his chest, the Allegheny County medical examiner said.
Mr. Wofford was taken to UPMC Presbyterian, where he underwent surgery. He died at 12:30 p.m. Sunday. Police did not have an opportunity to re-interview him, Commander Stangrecki said, leaving them with limited information. They had no suspects and could not surmise the motive Monday.
According to his family, Mr. Wofford started imitating James Brown before he turned 10 to entertain family members. With the help of relatives, he taught himself the drums, too.
He graduated from Westinghouse High School and began working regular gigs at the Crawford Grill.
His singing career took him to venues all over the city. He performed often at the James Street Restaurant on the North Side, now called the James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy. More recently, he was a regular at weekly gatherings of the Pittsburgh Jazz Society.
He released two albums with original music, one dedicated entirely to the Steelers, said Ms. Brown.
In 1996, Craig Guest, the 19-year-old son of his longtime girlfriend, was shot to death along with another man by a Pittsburgh police officer as they rode in a stolen car. The incident became a flashpoint of tension between the police force and the community, and Mr. Wofford was vocal in his criticism of the department and of the officer, who was cleared of any wrongdoing.
Ms. Brown said Mr. Guest's death devastated Mr. Wofford, as he had raised the man as his own son.
Ernest McCarty, a bass player in the Pittsburgh-based Boilermakers Jazz Band, said he believed Mr. Wofford channeled pain into his singing.
"He was a very forceful blues singer. He wasn't a crooner kind of blues singer," he said. "He was in your face. He was hard, hard-edged."
Pittsburgh Jazz Channel host Tony Mowod said the whole of the city's jazz and blues community mourned Mr. Wofford's death. He recalled him as a tip-top dresser and a charismatic performer.
"He sang songs that were meaningful," Mr. Mowod said. "He had his own style, and any time he performed it was a jam-packed house."
Ms. Brown implored the community to help solve her uncle's murder. Anyone with information was asked to call the city police homicide unit at 412-323-7161.
Mr. Wofford is survived by siblings Diane, Arthur and Sandra Williams; stepbrother William Dock Sr.; daughter Charmaine Kelley; and son Alan Wofford, all of Pittsburgh.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete Monday.
The family was requesting donations to the Spriggs-Watson Funeral Home to assist with funeral arrangements. Cash donations can be dropped off at the funeral home or checks, made out to the Spriggs-Watson Funeral Home, care of Leroy Wofford, can be mailed to 720 N. Lang Ave., Pittsburgh 15208.
A benefit will also be hosted to raise funds for Mr. Wofford's funeral at James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy on Wednesday at 6 p.m.
Moriah Balingit: email@example.com or 412-263-2533.