Boyz II Men is in harmony
Back in 1989, a group of friends who learned to harmonize in the bathrooms of Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts sang at a Valentine's Day party, then went on a mission. The singers, who had named themselves after a New Edition song, planned to sneak backstage at a Bell Biv Devoe concert for an impromptu audition. The plan worked, and BBD member Michael Bivins was impressed enough to throw his weight behind the group. They were signed to Motown before the end of the year.
Next month, Boyz II Men take a break from their long-running residency at The Mirage to perform a hometown Valentine's Day concert at The Met Philadelphia on the anniversary of the night they serenaded Bivins with a rendition of New Edition's "Can You Stand the Rain." Baritone Nathan Morris, tenor Wanya Morris (no relation) and tenor Shawn Stockman had celebrated the 30th anniversary of their discovery last year with a Feb. 14 concert at the newly opened Met Philly. The group that personifies the sound of hip-hop doo-wop had come full circle since going from high school to recording the songs that would be released on Boyz II Men's 1991 album Cooleyhighharmony.
Bivins would provide a guest rap on debut single "Motownphilly," but the album's strengths lay in skillful singing set against a new jack swing backdrop. The group, with Michael McCary on bass vocals, were equally influenced by '60s Motown, '70s Philadelphia soul and gospel groups such as Take 6, Commissioned and The Winans. "Motownphilly" reached No. 3 on the pop charts, only to be outdone by "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday," a cover of the end credits song from 1975 film Cooley High that reached No. 2.
Their second album II yielded back-to-back No. 1 hits "I'll Make Love to You" and "On Bended Knee," and spent five weeks at No. 1. The Boyz took a break after touring in support of II, but when they returned to work they found hip-hop had surpassed new jack swing in popularity. Instead of rappers guesting on pop songs, singers were contributing to tracks by hip-hop acts. They scored two more No. 1 hits, "One Sweet Day" with Mariah Carey in 1995 and "4 Seasons of Loneliness" in 1997. A slow fade in popularity put stress on the group. McCary, who privately battled multiple sclerosis, left in 2003 to focus on his health.
Boyz II Men carried on, with Nathan Morris adapting his role to compensate for McCary's absence. It was as a trio that they would find renewed popularity beginning in 2013 when The Mirage offered them a headlining residency. The comeback was extraordinary, with several sub-generations of fans snatching up tickets for exuberant performances and a return to romance in pop music. The Boyz were back on top where they remain today, with a showstopping moment involving ladies in the audience and the distribution of roses. They may have said goodbye to yesterday, but Boyz II Men have far to go before reaching the end of the road.
The Mirage, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 24-26, starting at $49.99 plus tax and fee. 702.792.7777