Tresvant, Ralph

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Ralph Tresvant



When Ralph Tresvant embarked on the music scene in the late 1970s as a member of the R&B group New Edition, many compared him to Michael Jackson during his time as a member of The Jackson 5. Tresvant was only 15 years old, and—like the young star who grew up to be the King of Pop—his voice was a high falsetto. He helped make New Edition one of the premier musical groups of the 1980s. The group sold out concert venues, and its records consistently placed high on the R&B charts. Though the group disbanded in the late 1980s, its members experienced continued success. During his solo career in the 1990s, some reviewers compared Tresvant to R&B legend Marvin Gaye. Despite comparisons to other great singers, Tresvant found his own sound and came to be considered among the great R&B singers of the latter part of the 20th century. With his charm, good looks, and caring lyrics, Tresvant became known as "Mr. Sensitivity," thanks to his 1990 hit single, "Sensitivity."

Ralph Edward Tresvant, Jr. was born on May 16, 1968, to Patricia Ann and Ralph, Sr., in the Roxbury section of Boston, Massachusetts. Though the family lived in the projects, young Ralph and his older sister, LaTonya, were brought up in a close-knit family. He was taught to be respectful and to stay humble. Tresvant loved music. With one of his best friends, Ricky Bell, Tresvant and other boys from the same housing projects began to win local talent shows by singing as a group. They called the group New Edition. In the early 1980s, New Edition—which included Bell, Tresvant, Michael Bivins, Ronnie DeVoe, and Bobby Brown—impressed Maurice Starr, founder of Streetwise Records in Boston. Upon hearing the group, Starr immediately signed New Edition to a contract.

First Release a Hit

New Edition modeled itself after the Jackson 5 and the Temptations. Tresvant's voice most mimicked Michael Jackson's, and he provided the lead vocals for the majority of the group's songs. The group recorded its first album, Candy Girl, in 1983. The single "Candy Girl" topped the R&B charts, and was followed by successful songs: "Jealous Girl," and "Is This the End?"

Their first album brought New Edition to the attention of fans, as well as the MCA record label. Despite the popular success of the group's first album, New Edition parted with Maurice Starr for financial reasons and signed with MCA Records in 1984.

The 1984 release of New Edition catapulted the group to enormous popularity. Songs like "Cool It Now," and "Mr. Telephone Man," kept New Edition at the top of the charts. With their identical outfits and precise choreography, New Edition entertained their mostly young female fans through concerts and videos. The group toured across the country, selling out at most venues.

Tresvant continued to lead many of the songs on this and later albums, but he also began to share lead vocals with Brown and Bell. On New Edition Tresvant led the vocals on "Cool It Now," but he shared the vocals on "Mr. Telephone Man" with Brown. In addition, Tresvant began penning lyrics. He wrote "I'm Leaving You Again" for New Edition with best friend Bell.

Changes in Group Brought More Success

The group's next album, All for Love, also showcased Tresvant's writing skills as he, Bell, Bivins, and DeVoe penned the raps on the single, "School." Though New Edition brought in profits for the record company, the group's members made little or no profit. After two years of heavy touring and being in the constant spotlight, every member of the group still lived in the projects.

Financial as well as musical goals splintered the group. Bobby Brown, who aspired to record solo, left the group in 1986 and released several hit songs. The quintet became a quartet. Tresvant continued to sing lead on most of the songs, and New Edition released a Christmas album, and Under the Blue Moon, a tribute to groups from the 1950s and the 1960s. Tresvant also recorded tracks for a solo album, but it was never released.

The members of New Edition wanted to get the respect of the industry by releasing a more mature sound. They decided to replace Brown with Johnny Gill, an up-and-coming singer with a baritone voice. Their next album, Heart Break, with songs produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis—the hitmakers behind Janet Jackson's wildly popular Control album—was their most successful album in the 1980s. The addition of Gill, and a mature sound tinged with a street edge, garnered hits such as "If It Isn't Love," "N.E. Heartbreak," "Crucial," and "Can You Stand The Rain?," all placing in the top ten on the R&B charts. "If It Isn't Love" also crossed over to the pop charts, reaching as high as number seven.

Solo Career Took Off

Though the group was at the peak of their success, Tresvant and the others chose to disband in 1989. Out of the spotlight, Tresvant worked on his emergence as a solo artist. He stated to Allison Samuels of Essence, "Being in a group for that long a time makes you realize your individual talent a lot more, and you want others to see it…." Other members of New Edition also released albums, as Bell, Bivins and DeVoe became Bell Biv DeVoe, and released a more street-edged sound, complete with raps penned by Bivins and DeVoe. Johnny Gill released a self-titled solo album of his own in 1990. Both albums reached platinum status, and anticipation for Tresvant's solo release was high.

Not one to disappoint, Tresvant released his first single, "Sensitivity" in 1990. With a production team that included Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and his own lyrics, his self-titled album sold more than a million copies thanks to his hit single, which also reached platinum status and climbed to number four on the pop charts. His album also reached number one on the R&B charts, where it remained in that position for two weeks. Tresvant also released "Stone Cold Gentleman" and "Rated R" to much fanfare.

In a trend that would continue well into the twenty-first century, Tresvant would appear on the song "Best Things in Life Are Free" with singers Luther Vandross, Janet Jackson, and fellow New Edition members turned hip-hop trio, Bell Biv DeVoe. Another hit single, "Money Can't Buy You Love," was also released on the Mo' Money soundtrack.

At a Glance …

Born Ralph Edward Tresvant, Jr. on May 16, 1968, in Boston, MA; son of Ralph, Sr. and Patricia Ann Tresvant (deceased); married Shelly, 1993 (divorced); married Amber Serrano, 2004; children: four.

Career: Member of highly successful R&B group, New Edition, 1979–89, 1996–; solo artist, 1990–; Xzault Media Group, partner.

Addresses: Home—Atlanta, GA. Publicist—It Girl Publications, 5301 Beethoven St., Ste. 220, Los Angeles, CA 90066; Web—

Group Reunited and Released Another Album

In the interim between the release of Ralph Tresvant and his second release, the lukewarm It's Goin' Down in 1994, Tresvant stayed busy. In addition to penning lyrics for other performers including Whitney Houston, he also made several guest appearances on television shows, including Family Matters and New York Undercover, and in films such as House Party 2, and Brown Sugar. He also found time to move to San Francisco and marry his childhood sweetheart, Shelly.

Tresvant's second album was a commercial disappointment, but he and the other members of New Edition began talks of releasing another album. With the return of Bobby Brown, the six members recorded Home Again in 1996. Ronnie DeVoe told the Denver Post, "We've had to check our egos at the door." While each artist had success on his own or in various groups, most of New Edition's fans longed for a new release from the group. Tresvant told Jet, "Our accomplishments with solo projects outsold the group. We came back and were able to do a successful project because of that. Those accomplishments mean something." Their first single, the hip-hop edged "Hit Me Off" was a hit and with Tresvant leading vocals, the ballad "I'm Still In Love With You," also placed on the charts.

While the reunion tour, which came on the heels of the group's 20th anniversary, was anxiously anticipated by many fans, it turned out to be a major disappointment. Brown, who was going through several personal issues, was constantly late to rehearsals and shows, and eventually quit the tour. His exit was followed by Michael Bivins, but Tresvant and the other three members continued to perform during both legs of the tour.

Began Acting as Group Returned

After the album and tour, Tresvant stepped out of the spotlight to regroup. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, he appeared in several traveling stage productions, and continued to write songs that were showcased on several soundtracks from such movies as Love & Basketball and Barbershop. The group reunited for several events, before signing a contract with Sean "Diddy" Combs' Bad Boy Records. As a quintet again, they released One Love in 2004. The first single off the new album, "Hot2Nite" combined the flavor of Bad Boy and Bell Biv Devoe while still representing the style of New Edition. However, album tracks such as "That's Why I Lied," and "Rekindling the Memories," were more reminiscent of the New Edition sound. Though the album did well, it still fell below the level of success to which the group was accustomed.

Tresvant and his fellow members felt that Combs was trying to mold the group into Bad Boy's image and that did not sit well with them. The group stepped away from the industry again. Tresvant released another solo album in 2006, RizzWaFaire. It, too, was met with mixed reviews. Amy Linden of Vibe declared, "This tendency toward anemic production and clumsy lyrics persists throughout the disc," while Rob Theakston on the All Music Web site noted that "[f]ans of his work will find this an enjoyable affair." Tresvant continued appearing in stage productions, including The Man of Her Dreams, in 2006. Tresvant partnered with the Xzault Media Group in 2006 in order to continue his solo success and to branch out into film and animation. He and the other members of New Edition continued to reunite occasionally at functions such as the Essence Music Festival in July of 2006. Though many had dismissed the group as a passing fad, Ralph Tresvant and New Edition have endured with a sound that continues to thrill fans, both old and new.

Selected works

Albums, with New Edition

Candy Girl, Streetwise Records, 1983.
New Edition, MCA Records, 1984.
All for Love, MCA Records, 1985.
Under the Blue Moon, MCA Records, 1986.
Heart Break, MCA Records, 1988.
Home Again, MCA Records, 1996.
One Love, Bad Boy Records, 2004.

Solo Albums

Ralph Tresvant, MCA Records, 1990.
It's Goin' Down, MCA Records, 1994.
RizzWaFaire, Xzault, 2006.


The Man of Her Dreams, 2006.



Who's Who Among African Americans, 18th Edition, Thomson Gale, 2005.


Billboard, January 29, 1994, pp. 22-23.

Denver Post, February 11, 1997, p. E-08.

Ebony, February 2005.

Essence, May 1991, p. 44.

Jet, November 15, 2004, pp. 52-59.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 27, 1997.

USA Today, March 21, 2006.

Vibe, February 2006.

Virginian Pilot (Richmond, VA), January 19, 1997, p. E1.


"New Edition Reuniting Again—And This Time, Bobby's On Board," VH1, (March 21, 2006).

"One Love But Two Sounds: Classic New Edition And '04 BBD Flow," VH1, (March 21, 2006).

Ralph Tresvant, (April 27, 2006).

"Ralph Tresvant," Internet Movie Database, (March 15, 2006).

"Ralph Tresvant," It Girl Public Relations, (March 1, 2006).

"Ralph Tresvant, Review" All Music, (March 28, 2006).

"RizzWaFaire, Review" All Music, (March 28, 2006).


Additional information was obtained through an internet radio interview at FWNTV available on-line at (March 27, 2006).