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New Edition, the teen vocal group that spawned some of the biggest R&B acts of the 1980s and 1990s; f. 1981, Boston, Mass. membership: Bobby Brown (b. Feb. 5, 1969); Ralph Tresvant (b. May 16, 1968); Michael Bivins (b. Aug. 10, 1968); Ricky Bell (b. Sept. 18, 1967); and Ronnie Devoe (b. Nov. 17, 1967).

All the members of New Edition grew up together in the Roxbury section of Boston. Brown was convinced they could sing their way out of the projects “and onto Soul Train,” and they performed in talent shows into their early teens. At one of these shows, Boston-based music entrepreneur Maurice Starr signed on to manage and produce them. The result was the 1983 R&B hit “Candy Girl,” a pastiche of Jackson Five harmonies and hip-hop beats, released on independent Streetwise records, better known for rap than soul. Their follow-up album spun off another R&B Top Ten single, “Is This the End.” The singles and album sold well enough to come to the attention of MCA records, who signed the group.

Their self-titled 1984 major label debut kicked off with the R&B chart topper “Cool It Now,” which went gold and hit #4 on the pop charts. The album went double platinum and hit #6 on the charts, spinning off another R&B chart topper, “Mr. Telephone Man” (#12 pop), in early 1985.

The group’s next album, All for Love, didn’t fare so well, only going platinum. Neither “Lost in Love” nor “A Little Bit of Love (Is All It Takes)” broke the Top 30. Brown left the group for a solo career. As a quartet, they recorded in 1986 Under a Blue Moon, an album of doo-wop covers, including a version of “Earth Angel” that landed in the film The Karate Kid II, topping out at #21.

The group replaced Brown with Johnny Gill (b. May 22, 1966, Washington, D.C.). Gill had performed since he was five in a family gospel group, Wings of Faith. Brought to Atlantic by soul singer Stacy Lattislaw, by 1983, when New Edition was charting “Candy Girl,” he had a Top 30 R&B single “Super Love.” “Perfect Combination,” a duet with Lattislaw, went Top Ten R&B a year later. He had a couple of R&B albums under his belt, as well.

This new New Edition recorded Heart Break in 1988 with producers Terry Lewis and Jimmy “Jam” Harris. The album went to #12 with the hit “If It Isn’t Love” rising to #7. However Bell, Bivens and Devoe felt dissatisfied, believing the group treated them like backing vocalists. They took their trio out from behind Brown, Tresvant, and then Gill, forming the group Bell Biv Devoe. They worked with some of the best producers available, including Harris and Lewis and Hank Shocklee. Their 1990 album Poison spent over a year on the charts, selling three million copies, with the platinum title-track single topping the R&B chart and hitting #3 pop. The single “Do Me” also hit #3, while “BBD (I Thought It Was Me)” topped the R&B chart, but only hit #26 pop. The album spawned a gold remix album WBBD—Bootcity! that hit #18 in 1991. They topped the R&B charts again, and hit #10 pop, with 1992’s “The Best Things in Life Are Free” a tune from the film Mo Money that paired them with Luther Vandross, Janet Jackson, and their old bandmate Ralph Tresvant.

Tresvant became the last member of the group to record a solo record in 1990. His self-titled album went platinum, hitting #17 on the strength of the #1 R&B (#4 pop) single “Sensitivity/’ as well as the #34 “Stone Cold Gentlemen” (which featured Brown rapping a break). Gill also scored a solo hit in 1990 with his self-titled album for Motown. The album went double platinum and rose to #8 with R&B chart toppers like the gold “Rub You The Right Way” (#3 pop) and “My, My My” (#10 pop), as well as “Fairweather Friend” (#28 pop).

Subsequent solo recordings had far less spectacular sales. Gill’s 1993 Provacative only went gold, topping out at #14. Similarly, BBD’s 1993 Hootie Mack went gold and hit #19. Tresvant’s 1994 It’s Goin’ Down didn’t even sell that well, topping out at #131. Perhaps because of their failure to generate excitement on their own, the original quintet and Gill got back together and cut the 1996 Home Again album, which topped the charts. The singles “Hit Me Off” charted at #3, “I’m Still in Love with You” topped out at #7 and “One More Day,” #61. All the members then returned to their solo careers, though they frequently intersected with Bell Biv Devoe, touring with Gill, and so forth.


Candy Girl (1983); New Edition (1984); Christmas All over the World (1985); All for Love (1985); Under the Blue Moon (1986); Heart Break (1989); Vol. 1—Greatest Hits (1991); Home Again (1996); Lost in Love—Best of Slow Jams (1998). bell biv devoe:Poison (1990); WBBD—Bootcity! (remix album; 1991); Hootie Mack (1993); New Edition’s Solo Hits (1996). ralph tresvant:Ralph Tresvant (1990); It’s Goin’ Down (1994). johnny gill:Chemistry (1985); Provocative (1993); Let’s Get the Mood Right (1996); Johnny Gill (1983).

—Hank Bordowitz

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