Community mourns loss of Joy Tlou, Park City musician who lived ‘life to the fullest’ |

Community mourns loss of Joy Tlou, Park City musician who lived ‘life to the fullest’

Open house-type event scheduled for Friday

Joy Tlou, left, gives the audience a dose of his trademark vocals during a performance with Eric Sopanen. A memorial celebration is scheduled Friday at City Park to honor Tlou, who died last weekend.
Photo by Don Trowbridge

Park City lost one of its beloved community members Saturday.

Bonolo Joy Tlou, known as Joy to his friends, died at his home in Highland Estates. He was 57.

Friends described Tlou as a renaissance man who loved to cook, fly fish and work in ceramics, but most people knew him as the charismatic singer who fronted the band Soul Patrol and sang in the acoustic duo Joy and Eric, with guitarist Eric Sopanen.

“Joy was very creative growing up, and that was his strong suit,” said his younger brother Leeto. “He loved to live life to the fullest, and he did that on his own terms.”

The community will celebrate Tlou’s life in a memorial that will run from 4-8 p.m. on Friday, June 18, at City Park.

The event, which will be open to the public, will be held in an open-house format, and everyone is encouraged to bring their own food and drinks, photos, stories and jokes, said Sopanen.

“There will be a sound system, and I’m sure some type of jamming will happen,” he said.

Tlou, who was born on Dec. 24, 1963, in Africa, was always a person who gave of himself, Leeto said.

“Joy was always cheerleading and supporting people, and he would be the one who gave the shirt off his back and the last dollar in his wallet,” he said. “He enjoyed entertainment and entertaining, and he didn’t care about material things. It was more along the lines that people enjoyed life as much as he did.”

Tlou developed a love for music during his childhood, according to Leeto.

“His musical tastes were all over the map, because he always thought outside the box with everything he did,” Leeto said. “Sometimes he would listen to rock. Sometimes it would be soul. Sometimes he’d listen to ska. And then he got into folk music and acoustic singer-songwriter type themes.”

Tlou’s musical knowledge grew when he worked as a DJ while attending Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, Leeto said.

“Through that job he’d listen to a wide range of music, even country and western,” Leeto said. “He would also interview bands that came through town, and bonded with these musicians.”

One of the groups Tlou connected with was English reggae band UB40.

“When I was a junior in high school, living in Blacksburg, Virginia, Joy got me tickets and backstage passes to UB40 because he had met the band a few weeks before when they came through his college town,” Leeto said.

When the tour manager took Leeto and his friend backstage, they went directly to the band’s green room.

“When they saw us, they all said, ‘Hey, you’re Joy’s brother,’ and they got excited and called him on the phone,” Leeto said.

After a few minutes of laughter, the band took Leeto and his friend to meet the other backstage pass holders and introduced them as the band’s triangle players.

“That was one of my most endearing memories that Joy made happen,” Leeto said.

Tlou moved to Utah from Iowa after Salt Lake Community College hired him in 1994.

Tlou touched many people’s lives in Utah since that day.

Rich Wyman, a Park City-based, award-winning singer and songwriter and one half of the duo Park88, met Tlou nearly 25 years ago and said he will miss his friend’s commanding presence.

“His presence was big, and I knew when I saw him coming down the street that I would be getting a big hug,” Wyman said.

Wyman will also miss Tlou’s musicality.

“Joy sang on two of my albums, and he had such a pure and powerful tone,” Wyman said. “It was spot on rhythmically and tonaly, and his voice was full of passion and joy. So when he sang, you felt his heart.”

Egyptian Theatre Manger Randy Barton met Tlou in 1997.

“He was one of the first musical people whom I connected with in Park City at that time,” Barton said. “He just had a beautiful voice and a passionate love for music. And while he was great at all these different things like cooking, when you heard him sing, you would think he spent all his time doing that, because he was so good and so pure.”

Barton loved seeing Tlou’s sheepish smile that he would flash every time they’d see each other.

“That smile meant, ‘There you are, and I love you,’” Barton said.

Sopanen and Tlou met in 2000 as members of the rock and funk band Soul Patrol.

“Joy was the front man at that time and had this incredible stage presence,” Sopanen said. “He would strut around the stage like Mick Jagger, and would get everyone up dancing and clapping along to the songs. There was so much energy coming off of the stage when he was on it.”

Like Wyman, Sopanen noticed Tlou’s knack for singing on perfect pitch.

“He could zero in on a note and not be sharp or flat, and that made playing with him fun,” Sopanen said. “Sometimes when I would tune up, I would randomly play a riff of a random song, and he would invariably step in and start singing whatever I was playing.”

The Joy and Eric duo emerged from Soul Patrol’s break up a few years later.

“Joy came to me and asked if I had ever thought of doing an acoustic duo with just us,” Sopanen said. “I was intimidated, because I had never done anything other than full rock bands, but he said it would be great.”

Tlou’s drive landed the duo an array of gigs that included performances in Atlanta, Chicago, Santa Barbara, Palm Springs and Kansas City.

“He almost created a music career for me,” Sopanen said. “I was just a club-band guitarist when he met me, and I had never been in that world before.”

One of Sopanen’s most memorable performances with Tlou was at Red Butte Garden, opening for the band Chicago in 2009.

“That was the first time that I personally opened to any act of any stature of a band like that,” Sopanen said.

The duo played to a sold-out audience, as Chicago watched from the wings.

“The energy was unbelievable,” he said. “The crowd was riding on every note Joy would sing, while I was on my acoustic guitar just trying to keep up.”

Sopanen roamed through the audience during Chicago’s set and decided to leave early to beat the crowds, something he regrets to this day.

“I got up to my home in Summit Park and was playing Guitar Hero, when Joy calls and asks me where I am,” Sopanen said. “After telling him I’m at home, Joy tells me Chicago’s stage manager came up to him with two guitars and asked which one I’d like to play with Chicago during their encore. I blew our chance to be on stage with Chicago. And I still kick myself daily.”

Sopanen has other stories culled from his adventures with Tlou, and is heartbroken that there won’t be any more.

The last time Sopanen saw Tlou alive was on June 4, after their gig at the Sundance Resort.

“It was one of the worst days of my life when I found him last Saturday,” he said. “I still haven’t processed it, so I don’t know how this is going to affect me.”

Tlou is survived by his father Josiah, mother Litha, brother Leeto, Leeto’s wife Charlene Barnsdale, sisters Hla and Lee, and Lee’s husband Kofi Adusei and daughter Eno.

Memorial Celebration for Joy Tlou

When: 4-8 p.m. on Friday, June 18

Where: City Park

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