Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Bobby Brown, Ronnie DeVoe, Ralph Tresvant.
These five men were introduced to New England and the World in 1983. Just a year before, they landed in second place in a talent contest at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester. There was a $500 first place prize and an opportunity to work with local musician and producer Maurice Starr. But Starr noticed that there was something special about these 2nd placed five young men, really just boys, at the time. He decided to take them in the studio as well. They were reminiscent of five brothers who took the world by storm just a little over a decade before. Those brothers were, of course, the Jackson 5. The Jackson 5, along with the Temptations, were idols of these fresh faced young men from Dorchester and Roxbury but they were new… they were a “New Edition” of those legendary groups.
Forty years later those five men are masters of their craft: creating and performing rhythm and blues in the grand tradition of their idols. A sixth member, Johnny Gill, joined the group in 1987 when original member Bobby Brown opted for a solo career. There is not a “boy band” recording today that does not recognize New Edition as this generation’s foundation to group performers.
In ’83 Maurice Starr made good on his instincts. He decided these five young men had something special. He signed the group. And along with his brother Michael Jonzun, he wrote all of the songs, and with Arthur Baker they produced the New Edition’s first album Candy Girl. Many tracks were recorded in Roxbury at Maurice Starr’s studio.
Candy Girl was a smash with the title track hitting No.1 on the Billboard R ‘n B charts and they scored a top ten hit with “Is This The End.” In what had to be a surreal moment for New Edition,“Candy Girl” hit No. 1 on the Hot R&B chart for one week in May 1983 by edging out Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” which came in at No. 2. How often does anyone get to dethrone their idol?
Since the sound was similar to their idols, it was important that their stage act was equally impressive. Under the training and wing of dancer and choreographer Brook Payne, New Edition, even in their youth, presented a stage confidence that the Temptations could be proud of. With Ralph Tresvant holding down lead vocal duties, the other members lit the stage up with flawless steps, dips and turns and stunning harmonies.
With their second album, New Edition, they only became more successful as that album gave them two No.1’s: “Cool It Now” and “Mr. Telephone Man.” Things were going well from a fan view but behind the scenes things were not. Contract issues and Bobby Brown’s behavioral problems led to the group cutting ties with Starr and Bobby Brown deciding (or perhaps recommended) to leave the group. Brown had a wildly successful solo career on his own which included releasing the multi platinum Don’t Be Cruel.
New Edition saw things start to slow down with the release of their third and fourth albums, but all that changed when they hooked up with the super production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis for their fifth album, the classic Heartbreak. This 1988 release featured Ralph Tresvant sharing vocals with Bobby Brown replacement Johnny Gill. Gill brought his booming voice to the group and gave it a more mature sound. Lewis and Jam gave the guys a funkier sound and adult lyrics and the result was music magic. Spanning five instant classic hits: “If It Isn’t Love,” “You’re Not My Kind of Girl,” “Can You Stand The Rain,” “Crucial,” and “N.E. Heartbreak,” this album was a monster and remains their greatest achievement. With four top five singles including the No. 1 “Can You Stand The Rain,” New Edition was at the very top in Soul/Rhythm and Blues and was scoring big on the pop charts as well. Through the years group members would release solo albums including platinum sellers by Johnny Gill and a very successful solo effort by Ralph Tresvant. It only made sense that Ronnie DeVoe, Ricky Bell and Michael Bivins would try to do solo work but they decided to work together and became BBD (Bell Biv DeVoe). Those three Bostonians had the entire world singing “…that girl is poison” from their Poison album that sold an astonishing 4 million copies.
But what started as a group must continue that way as Bobby Brown would once again return to the New Edition fold. They were now six members and ready to move forward.
These last ten years have seen New Edition tour, record, and receive honor after honor. There was a BET movie about their career that was one of the most popular movies BET ever produced. There was a movie about the life of Bobby Brown that was equally successful. New Edition was inducted into the BET Hall of Fame which culminated with a popular performance during the BET Awards several years back.
In 2021 they brought down the house at the American Music Awards performing with the New Kids on the Block. New Kids on the Block had their beginnings with Marice Starr and of course, were inspired by New Edition.
New Edition has always been and will always be friends first. They have always been there for each other. Bobby Brown has openly spoken of how his childhood friends and bandmates have been there for him as he dealt with the personal pain of losing his ex-wife Whitney Houston and daughter Bobbi-Kristina. He said, “They lifted me up and held me up to heights I can’t even find the words to explain, but they’ve always been there for me and I appreciate them all.”
New Edition continues to support the Boston neighborhoods which spawned them. They continue to support programs and organizations to assist all Bostonians achieve their dreams.
From the neighborhoods of Boston, New Edition has perfected a sound and style of popular music that has taken them to the height of the music.
After four decades together we all look forward to what the future holds for our Hometown Heroes.
(By Edwin Sumpter – February 2022)
Published on December 28, 2012