New Edition

A biography of the pioneering New Jack Swing R&B group

R&B group New Edition
R&B group New Edition. Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc./Getty Images

New Edition is an all-male R&B group that formed in Boston in the early 1980s. The group spearheaded the boy band movement that endured throughout the '80s and '90s, and they're widely recognized as pioneers of the New Jack Swing R&B/hip-hop subgenre.

The group is made up of members Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Bobby Brown, Ronnie DeVoe, Johnny Gill and Ralph Tresvant. Gill is not an original member.

Origins

The boys who would become known as New Edition grew up in Boston. Bobby Brown, Michael Bivins and Ricky Bell, who knew each other from school and living in the same housing projects, formed a vocal group in the late 1970s. Two friends, Travis Pettus and Corey Rackley, were briefly members. They met local manager and choreographer Brooke Payne while performing at a talent show in Roxbury, Mass. The group auditioned for Payne, who thought the quintet was like a new edition of the Jackson 5, and he renamed them New Edition.

Pettus and Rackley left the group and were replaced by another neighborhood friend, Ralph Tresvant, and Payne's nephew Ronnie DeVoe.

New Edition caught their break in 1982 when they were discovered at a talent show at Boston's Strand Theatre by music producer and songwriter Maurice Starr. The group ended up taking second place, but Starr was impressed and offered them a deal on his label Streetwise Records.

The next day they started working on what would become their debut album, Candy Girl.

Early Career

Their 1983 debut was both a critical and commercial success. Candy Girl sold over a million copies and the title track was No. 1 hit the U.S. and U.K. They subsequently embarked on a major tour to promote the album.

After the tour wrapped and the boys returned home they each received a check for the measly amount of $1.87. Starr explained that tour expenses prevented them from being paid more. In 1984 they split with Starr and sued his label. New Edition won the lawsuit and they scored a recording deal with MCA Records following a bidding war with several other major labels.

Their self-titled second album, which was released in 1984, was even more successful than their first. It eventually sold over 2 million copies and generated multiple singles, including "Cool It Now" and the Top 5 hit "Mr. Telephone Man."

Their third effort, All for Love, was released in 1985. Though not nearly as successful as New Edition, it still went platinum and yielded the hit singles "Count Me Out," "A Little Bit of Love (Is All It Takes)" and "With You All the Way."

Membership Shuffle

New Edition voted member Bobby Brown out in 1986, reportedly due to personality differences, and the group continued as a quartet. Brown embarked on a solo career.

Despite the shakeup, they continued to be successful. After recording a cover of the 1954 Penguins' hit "Earth Angel" for the soundtrack to "The Karate Kid, Part II," they were inspired to record Under the Blue Moon, a compilation of doo-wop covers.

In 1987 Johnny Gill was brought into the group.

Their fifth album, Heart Break, was released in 1988. It marked New Edition's departure from kiddy-pop and their entry into a smoother, stronger, more mature sound that resonated with critics and fans. It went on to sell more than 2 million copies in the U.S. Soon after they kicked off a tour with former member Bobby Brown, who now had a successful career as a solo artist, as their opening act.

Hiatus

With Bobby Brown experiencing substantial solo success, the boys of New Edition felt inspired to pursue side projects and they temporarily broke up.

Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe formed the trio Bell Biv DeVoe. Their 1990 debut album, Poison, which served as a fixture of the New Jack Swing movement, sold more than 4 million copies.

Ralph Tresvant and Johnny Gill each released solo albums and enjoyed platinum success.

The group reunited at the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards when all six members, including Bobby Brown, performed a remix of the Bell Biv DeVoe song "Word to the Mutha!."

1996 Reunion

New Edition had promised fans they'd get back together, so in 1996 they released Home Again. Bobby Brown was officially back in the group, making New Edition a sextet for the first time, and the album sold more than 4 million copies worldwide.

The reunion was short-lived, however. During their promotional tour, ​the group broke out into a fight onstage when Brown decided to lengthen his solo set. Brown and Bivins left the tour, and Bell, DeVoe, Gill and Tresvant finished it as a quartet.

After the tour was over, New Edition's future was more uncertain than ever before.

Comeback

Solo pursuits followed New Edition's second breakup and they eventually reunited sans Bobby Brown in 2002. Sean "Diddy" Combs, CEO of Bad Boy Records, signed the group to his label.

One Love was issued in 2004. It debuted at No. 12 on the Billboard 200 but continued to decline. New Edition eventually asked to be released from their contract with Bad Boy due to creative differences.

In 2005 New Edition performed at BET's 25th Anniversary Special. Bobby Brown joined the group for a performance of "Mr. Telephone Man," and it was later announced that he'd reconciled with the group and planned to rejoin them in future concerts.

Today

New Edition announced a world tour to celebrate their 30th anniversary in 2012. That same year they received the Soul Train Award for Lifetime Achievement.

In 2015 BET announced a three-night scripted miniseries about the group that would air sometime in 2016. Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Ronnie DeVoe, Johnny Gill, Ralph Tresvant and their original choreographer and longtime manager, Brooke Payne, signed on as coproducers.

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