When the history of New England music is discussed and the question is asked, “Name someone who is responsible for writing and producing recordings in excess of 50 million units sold around the world?” The name Maurice Starr may not jump out of your mouth immediately… but it should.
Maurice Starr is the founder and creative force behind two of the most successful acts to ever come out of New England, New Edition and New Kids On The Block.
By the time he had parted ways with both bands they had sold millions of recordings worldwide. At the height of their popularity the New Kids On The Block were as popular as any pop act has ever been. And like he did on the early albums of New Edition, he wrote and produced every single one of the NKOTB hits off their first few albums.
Larry Curtis Johnson was born in 1953 in Deland, Florida. Johnson moved to Boston, Massachusetts, in the early 1970s. He did have a recording career on his own. Maurice had a monster hit on RCA Records that was played throughout the country. It was a staple on Boston’s own WILD-AM radio station entitled, “Bout Time I Funked You Baby.”
His brothers were equally talented and together they formed the Johnson Brothers and the Jonzun Crew where they found success as well with several R n’ B hits including the popular “Pac Man.” By 1980 Maurice Starr had recorded two R&B albums, Flaming Starr and Spacey Lady.
Maurice was multi-talented and there was always the chance that if the solo recording career didn’t work out he certainly had the eye, the ear and the ability to produce acts. He started hosting the Hollywood Talent Nights talent shows throughout Boston’s neighborhoods and as fortune would have it he would soon meet five young men from Roxbury, a Boston neighborhood and New Edition was born. Under Maurice in 1982 their smash song “Candy Girl” became a number one hit on the black Billboard charts and took the country by storm as did their first album also entitled Candy Girl, selling one million copies. Maurice would produce and write every song on this album. However after the successful debut, New Edition and Maurice Starr parted ways. But Maurice Starr would then take his talents as a producer to an even higher level.
He again returned to the neighborhoods of Boston and in 1984 he put together five young men from Dorchester and South Boston and New Kids On The Block were the result. The formula was the same but the race of the group was different as these were five young white men compared to five black young men from New Edition. But Maurice knew what he was doing. He stated “I honestly believe that if they’d been white, [New Edition] would have been 20 times as big.” The formula paid off. New Kids On The Block would become one of the most popular pop acts of all time. Their first self titled-album, released in 1986, went triple platinum and featured the single, “Be My Girl.” But it was their second album that stamped Maurice Starr and New Kids On The Block’s place in New England and music history. “Hangin’ Tough” was released in August 1988 and would sell 13 million copies worldwide. NKOTB took on a Beatles-esque fan response. Their concerts sold out around the world and their merchandising took them into over 1 billion dollars of total revenue earned from 1988 to 1990.
These first two albums were written and produced by Maurice Starr. He recorded the albums in Boston and Westwood, MA and Warren, RI. The album “Hangin’ Tough” would win two American Music Awards and received a Grammy nomination. The album spawned five hits.
At age 36 Maurice Starr was one of the biggest names in the recording business. Eventually Maurice would part ways with New Kids On The Block as the group members would move on to other projects. But Maurice would work with a who’s who of artists, writing songs and appearing on albums for LL Cool J, Peter Wolf, Con Funk Shun, The Stylistics, Shirley Caesar, Tiffany, Anita Baker, Jean Carne, Ma$e , and Puff Daddy and others.
His success with New Kids On The Block and New Edition was of course the foundation that would later spawn the Backstreet Boys, *NYSNC and restart the whole boy bands/girl bands phenomenon that continues to dominate the recording industry today in 2021. Both New Edition and New Kids on the Block would continue to have incredible success after Maurice Starr. Despite only working on one album with Maurice Starr, New Edition would go on to become one of the most successful R&B/soul bands in music history. Members Bobby Brown, Ralph Tresvant and spin-off group Bell Biv DeVoe would all achieve individual success as well.
Maurice has had some health challenges in recent years. He is living in Florida and in late 2020 all the members of New Kids on the Block went down to visit him. Said NKOTB member Donnie Wahlberg, “It would be hard to fully explain the impact this man has had in my life on so many lives beyond the success he has helped me find personally.”
No New England-based artist in history has sold, written and produced as many songs and albums as Maurice Starr did with New Kids On The Block and New Edition in such a short period of time, under 10 years.
(by John Cappello)