In 1983, 16-year old Johnny Gill told People, “I think I’m gonna go a long way.” Stacy Lattisaw, a popular R&B singer and a childhood friend of Gill’s, agreed. Lattisaw discovered a very young Gill singing with his school glee club. At age 16, Gill embarked on a solo career in R&B. In 1988 he joined the popular group New Edition when Bobby Brown left. When New Edition parted ways in 1989, success followed Gill in his solo career with hit singles like “My, My, My,” and “Rub You the Right Way.” In 1996 New Edition reunited and recorded a new CD even while its members, including Gill, continued their solo careers.
Gill was born in 1967 in Washington, D.C., the son of a Baptist minister. He started playing guitar at age five and began singing publicly at age seven with the family’s gospel group Johnny Gill and the Wings of Faith. Gill’s father forced his four sons to rehearse for six hours a day. Lattisaw recognized Gill’s talent while he sang for his glee club and asked him to make a demo tape. At the time, Lattisaw had five hit R & B albums to her credit. She sent Gill’s demo tape to the president of her record company, Cotillion Records, who signed Gill immediately. Gill was nervous about recording an album. He told Essence, “Recording an album was the hardest thing to do. You start to ask yourself, ’What if this fails?’” The album he recorded for Cotillion in 1983, called Perfect Combination, included the first single “Super Love,” which reached the top thirty on the R & B charts. In 1984 the single “Perfect Combination,” sung with Lattisaw, reached the top ten on the R & B charts.
In 1985 Gill recorded Chemistry for Atlantic Records, but really made his name when he joined New Edition in 1988. Gill replaced lead singer Bobby Brown, who was busy achieving superstardom with his solo career. New Edition was discovered by Maurice Starr in the early Eighties when the group was performing in a talent show. The group reached the top of the R & B and pop charts quickly after recording its first album. After one album, they left Maurice Starr and signed with MCA. Starr went on to create New Kids on the Block. New Edition continued to hit the top ten pop and R&B charts with its next four albums before Brown left in 1986. In 1988 they recorded Heartbreak with Gill as the lead singer. That album yielded a top ten hit called “If It Isn’t Love.”
In 1989 the group went its separate ways. Gill wanted to record another solo album. Ralph Tresvant wanted a solo career, and the remaining members of the group-Michael Bivins, Ricky Bell, and Ronnie DeVoe—went on
For the Record…
Born in, 1967, in Washington, D.C.; son of a Baptist minister.
Performed at age eight in family gospel group Johnny Gill and the Wings of Faith with his three older brothers; discovered by Stacy Lattisaw while singing for school glee club; Lattisaw sent demo tape to Cotillion Records, 1982; recorded first solo album, Perfect Combination, for Cotillion, 1983; “Perfect Combination,” a duet with Lattisaw hit the top ten on R&B charts, 1984; joined group New Edition, 1988; group parted ways, 1989; solo recording, Johnny Gill, topped R&B and pop charts, 1990; reunited with New Edition and they recorded Home Again with Bobby Brown, 1996; toured with New Edition, 1996–97; recorded Let’s Get the Mood Right, 1996.
Awards: Johnny Gill, double-platinum album, 1990; Provocative, gold album, 1993.
Addresses: Record company —Motown Records, 11150 Santa Monica Blvd., suite 1000, Los Angeles, CA 90025
to form a new group called Bell Biv DeVoe. Gill sang on an R&B number one hit in 1989, “Where Do We Go from Here,” with Stacy Lattisaw. Gill’s solo success was at its height when he recorded Johnny Gill for Motown Records in 1990.
When Gill signed with Motown, the company went all out to tap his potential and sell him as a solo artist. Producers included Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, the most auspicious in the business. According to a Rolling Stone contributor, “No expense was spared—great talents were unleashed and the result is good.” His fans agreed, turning the album double-platinum. The album was number one on the R & B charts and in the top ten on the pop charts. The two big singles on the album were Babyface’s “My, My, My” and Jam and Lewis’s “Rub You the Right Way.” Both reached number one on the R & B charts and the top five on the pop charts. Rolling Stone commented, “Gill seems poised midway between Freddie Jackson’s gentle lover persona and the old Teddy Pendergrass slick seducer routine.”
Gill, Bell Biv DeVoe, Bobby Brown, and others like singer Keith Sweat were labeled New Jack R & B. New Jack R & B is a more up-tempo, intensely sexual R&B sound that Gill helped define. An Entertainment Weekly critic remarked, “Johnny Gill can officially be crowned the Marvin Gaye of the new-jack soul generation.” Keith Sweat, Bell Biv DeVoe, and Gill toured together for several months. Michael Eck of Billboard magazine reviewed one of their first concerts. He said, “Former New Edition vocalist Gill fit somewhere between Sweat’s croon and his former band mates’ hip-hopping funk.”
Following the success of Johnny Gill, Gill released his next solo effort, Provocative, in 1993. Provocative did not receive the same accolades that Johnny Gill earned. There were no top ten singles although “Long Way from Home” and “Quiet Time to Play” were moderately successful. The album went gold, but considering the double-platinum sales of the previous album, Gill expected more. Meanwhile, his friends from New Edition were experiencing the same disappointment. Bell Biv DeVoe’s second album lacked the punch of Poison, and Bobby Brown was all over the tabloids for his bad boy antics and shaky marriage to superstar singer Whitney Houston. In 1996 the group decided to reunite—not just for nostalgia’s sake—but with an agenda. Michael Bivins bluntly stated in Newsweek, “No one should believe we got back together right now for the hell of it. Each of our last projects did pretty poorly, so coming back to New Edition was something all of us really needed to do.”
The group recorded a reunion album called Home Again. Bobby Brown and Johnny Gill both performed on the album and toured with the band. Kevin Raub of Rolling Stone declared that the band members “have survived the years with resounding triumph and returned with a vengeance.” During their reunion concerts, the band members performed New Edition songs and songs from their solo efforts. During a concert at Madison Square Garden, Bobby Brown shamelessly plugged his latest album Bobby Brown Forever. He announced the album, and while mooning the crowd declared that those who didn’t like it could kiss his a—. Gill also had an album to promote. In the fall of 1996, Motown released Let’s Get the Mood Right. The New Edition reunion did not worry Motown executives. The executives considered it free publicity for the new album, not a distraction. Gill sang lead on only one song from Home Again.
Let’s Get the Mood Right included the same producers used for Johnny Gill and more. Gill, R. Kelly, Babyface, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, and Tony Rich all produced songs on the album. Billboard called the album a “collection of romance-laced tracks that are highlighted by powerful chops.” Gill, who at 16 shied away from sexual lyrics in music, now depends on a female audience to fall for his crooning. His counterparts, like Keith Sweat, also depend on the feminine crowd for their record sales. At the Madison Square Garden concert, Raub remarked, “Keith Sweat made love to the stage for 30 minutes before New Edition stole the show.”
Let’s Get the Mood Right included many ballads, but like Gill’s other albums, the styles vary from song to song. Some songs have a true R & B sound, while others expose his gospel roots with hymn-like qualities. Gill told Jet, “I want to be able to do it all and just be known as an entertainer without a label.” All of his songs have one thing in common—a love for women. Many songs contain sexually charged lyrics. He wrote in his website literature: “When it comes to singing or loving, intimacy is everything. As an artist, my hope is to become more intimate with my creativity. As a man, I want intimacy with a woman.” In Ebony, Gill professed that he loves all women, especially Black women. He said, “I believe that love is color-blind, but Black women possess a unique beauty and an inner strength that has held the Black family together through centuries of turmoil and strife.” With songs like Babyface’s “Let’s Get the Mood Right,” Gill can expect to achieve intimacy with his audience for a long time.
Perfect Combination, Cotillion, 1983.
Chemistry, Atlantic, 1985.
Johnny Gill, Motown, 1990.
Provocative, Motown, 1993.
Let’s Get the Mood Right, Motown, 1996.
With New Edition; on MCA Records
Heartbreak (includes “If It Isn’t Love”), 1988.
Greatest Hits, 1991.
Home Again, 1996.
Christmas Cheers from Motown, Motown, 1989.
(With others) New Jack City (soundtrack), Giant, 1991.
(With others) Boomerang (soundtrack), 1992.
(With others) Mo’ Money (soundtrack), 1992.
(With Shabba Ranks), X-tra Naked, 1992.
(With others) Booty Call (soundtrack), 1997
The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, edited by Patricia Romanowski, Fireside, 1995.
Billboard, January 19, 1991; October 5, 1996.
Ebony, February, 1992.
Entertainment Weekly, July 16, 1993.
Essence, October, 1990.
Jet, March 21, 1994.
Newsweek, September 9, 1996.
People, September 19, 1983.
Rolling Stone, July 12, 1990; January 13, 1997.
Additional information provided by the Polygram website and the All-Music Guide-A Complete Online Database of Recorded Music, by Matrix Software, copyright 1991-1997.
From 1988 to 1991 Johnny Gill was a regular at the number one slot on the rhythm-and-blues (R&B) music charts. His group New Edition had a number one album, Heart Break, in 1988. His 1990 solo release, Johnny Gill, produced three number one singles on its way to number one. Another song he duetted on, "Where Do We Go From Here," also landed at number one. The Indianapolis Recorder gushed, "Like the great soul singers of the past, Gill has all the right stuff: a natural voice of tremendous force, a soaring falsetto and the gift of impeccable timing. Both patient and urgent, sensitive and sultry, Gill raises romance to new heights." Gill continued to use that voice into the 2000s to put out dozens of more hits—on his own, with super-group New Edition, and as the G in R&B soul-meisters LSG.
Graduated from Gospel to R&B
Johnny Gill Jr. was born on May 22, 1966, in Washington, DC, the fourth son of Johnny and Annie Gill. The senior Gill was a Baptist minister who raised his family according to scripture. While secular music such as R&B was forbidden, gospel was embraced and the family formed the group Wings of Faith and, later, The Gill Special. By the age of eight, Johnny Jr., whose deep, baritone voice was already emerging, became the family's main vocalist. Despite his father's efforts, Gill could not resist the pull of R&B. One of his childhood friends was Stacy Lattisaw, a teen R&B sensation on the Atlantic Records label. She encouraged Gill to record a demo tape. "She always knew I could sing and she told the president of her record company about me and that's how everything took place," Gill told The Jamaica Observer.
Gill's voice, mature beyond its years, impressed Atlantic executives and they immediately signed him to the label's imprint, Cotillion. Gill was just 16 at the time. "Recording an album was the hardest thing to do," Gill recalled to Essence. "You start to ask yourself, 'What if this fails?' But it never dawned on me in the studio, because the producers were so great to work with." The result, titled Johnny Gill, came out in 1983. Despite the modest hit single "Super Love," the album was lackluster. The following year Gill had more success with Perfect Combination, a joint effort with Lattisaw. The album's title song reached the top ten and revealed the depth of Gill's vocal abilities to a broad fan base. In 1985 Atlantic released Gill's sophomore effort, Chemistry. It spawned the song "Half Crazy," which went to number 26 on Billboard's R&B charts.
By 1988 Gill had left Atlantic and signed a new contract with Motown Records. Meanwhile, the boy band New Edition was looking for a new singer. New Edition had rocketed to fame in 1983 with the megahit "Candy Girl." After a string of more hits, lead singer Bobby Brown decided to pursue a solo career. Enter Gill. He had been friends with members of the group since their debut and, according to the New Edition Web site, "[the group] would always joke that if Johnny could hit one of their dance steps right, he could be in the group." With the understanding that he would continue to record as a soloist for Motown, Gill joined New Edition, who were then signed to MCA Records.
Scored a String of Chart-Topping Hits
When New Edition first hit the airwaves, its five members were between 14 and 16 years old. Their songs were bubblegum-sweet pop: "The Telephone Man," "Popcorn Love," "Cool It Now." They dressed in matching outfits, pumped out in-sync dance steps, and filled pages of teen magazines. They were as well loved for their youth as for their music. However, by 1988 the boys, nearing their twenties, were ready to be considered men. Gill's rich, soulful voice was the perfect vehicle. Most critics consider 1989's Heart Break the group's first foray into mature music. The sultry ballad "Can You Stand the Rain," anchored by Gill's riveting voice, sailed straight to number one on the charts. Three other songs from the album made it into the top five. The album went double-platinum, according to the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA), with confirmed sales of over two million copies.
Despite the phenomenal success of Heart Break, New Edition decided to disband in 1989. Gill joined old pal Lattisaw on the single "Where Do We Go from Here," which landed him right back at the number one slot on the R&B charts. With the backing of Motown he also recorded his most successful album to date, 1990's Johnny Gill. Motown pulled out all stops for the album, hiring the best producers in urban music and sponsoring a massive marketing campaign. It worked. The public sent the album straight to double-platinum status and pushed three singles to number one on the R&B charts: "My, My, My," "Rub You the Right Way," and "Wrap Your Body Tight."
Johnny Gill earned the crooner a Grammy nomination for best R&B male vocal performance, though he lost to Luther Vandross. The album also established Gill as a master of the musical trend known as New Jack. In its early 1990s heyday, New Jack took the classic soul of R&B vocals, added a shot of sexiness, some slick synthesizers, and a hint of rap. With his self-titled album all over the top of the charts, Gill was labeled "the Marvin Gaye of the new-jack soul generation" by Entertainment Weekly.
Reunited with New Edition
Provocative, Gill's second album for Motown, came out in 1993. Again Motown went all out with production and marketing. Gill did the same. "I tried to give the best vocal performance on each song," he told Billboard. "I think that's what people expect of me." Unfortunately expectations did not translate into sales and the album barely reached RIAA gold status (sales of 500,000 or more). The first single, "The Floor," made it to number 11 on the charts, and three others reached the top fifty. Not a bad showing, but for Gill it was a big disappointment after the incredible success of his previous album.
For the next several years, Gill collaborated with numerous artists, did countless performances, and made several television appearances. Meanwhile, the members of New Edition were thinking about getting back together. It finally happened in 1986 and both Gill and Brown joined the other four members in the studio to record Home Again. The album went double-platinum and landed at number one on both Billboard's R&B and top 200 charts. The first single, the sexy "Hit Me Off," went to number one on the R&B and dance charts. The album also spawned a mega-tour. Despite much-publicized rumors about clashing egos on the tour, Gill told The Jamaica Observer, "We have our ups and downs and all of that stuff but we're family. I couldn't think of any other group that I'd rather be with."
Just months after Home Again came out, Gill released Let's Get the Mood Right, his fifth solo album, and his third on the Motown label. Featuring styles from New Jack to classic R&B to gospel, the album went to number seven on the R&B charts and produced several Gill classics, including the title track, "Love in an Elevator," and "It's Your Body." The latter was written and produced by Gill. He also played bass on many of the tracks. Though it did not sear across the charts as Johnny Gill had, the album pulled in a lot of praise from music critics. The Indianapolis Recorder called Gill "the most passionate balladeer of his generation." The Cincinnati Post wrote "this disc is the first time in memory that Gill's material rates high enough to take full advantage of his wonderful pipes."
At a Glance...
Born on May 22, 1966, in Washington, DC.
Career: Singer, 1983–. Recorded with Atlantic Records, 1983-86, and Motown Records, 1987–. Member of New Edition, MCA Records, 1988-2002, and Bad Boy Records, 2002–; member of LSG, Motown Records, 1997–.
Completed Two Decades of Music Making
In 1997 Gill joined forces with Gerald Levert and Keith Sweat to form LSG. The trio's first album, Levert-Sweat-Gill, led by the hit single "My Body," went double-platinum and landed at the number two spot on the R&B charts, number four on the pop. The group's second effort, LSG2, released in 2003, took the third and sixth spots respectively. The same year Motown released The Best of Johnny Gill.
Gill also turned his talents to the stage, appearing in several gospel-tinged musicals including Listen to Your Woman, Will a Real Man Please Stand Up, and A Fool for Love. However, New Edition was never far from his heart. When the group began touring again in 2000, Gill was there. During 2002 New Edition appeared at the Black Entertainment Television (BET) music awards, where they met urban music mogul Sean "P. Diddy" Combs. He signed the quintet to his Bad Boy Records label and in 2004 New Edition released One Love. Gill was featured prominently on several tracks, prompting a St. Louis Post-Dispatch music reviewer to write, "[Gill] remains the group's ace." Fans were thrilled with the band's return to recording and pushed the record to the top of the charts. Reflecting on the album's success, Gill told Jet, "I think we were one of the first groups of our generation to do what we've done, be successful and then spin out and do our own thing and then come back. Most groups can't make it that far."
Working full-time as a solo artist and with two popular bands kept Gill busy. "It's tough, very tough but I enjoy it and that's the challenge," Gill told The Jamaica Observer. "You get to work with different personalities and when you are around people that are talented it also keeps your creative juices flowing and that inspires me." Yet despite his prolific creativity, real stardom has eluded him. He has never won a Grammy and his name is largely unknown outside of his R&B fan base. Nonetheless, he viewed his career as a success. "This year makes 20 years," he told The Jamaica Observer in 2003. "And a lot of people have come and gone and [the fact that I'm still around] for me, that's a blessing within itself and I just look forward to another 20 years of doing what I'm doing and what I enjoy doing the most."
(With Stacy Lattisaw) Perfect Combination, Cotillion, 1983.
Johnny Gill, Atlantic, 1983.
Chemistry, Atlantic, 1985.
(With New Edition) Heart Break, MCA Records, 1988.
Johnny Gill, Motown, 1990.
Provocative, Motown, 1993.
Let's Get the Mood Right, Motown, 1996.
(With New Edition) Home Again, MCA Records, 1996.
(With Gerald Levert and Keith Sweat) LSG2, Elektra, 2003.
The Best of Johnny Gill, Motown, 2003.
(With New Edition) One Love, Bad Boy Records, 2004.
Billboard, June 5, 1993.
The Cincinnati Post, October 24, 1996.
Entertainment Weekly, July 16, 1993.
Essence, October 1990.
Indianapolis Recorder, November 9, 1996.
Jet, November 15, 2004.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 18, 2004.
"About.Johnny," New Edition, www.newedition20th.com (March 1, 2005).
"Johnny Gill & Music...A Perfect Combination," The Jamaica Observer, www.jamaicaobserver.com/lifestyle/html/20030508T200000-0500_43512_OBS_JOHNNY_GILL___MUSIC.asp (March 1, 2005).