Following New Edition's genealogy
Most boy bands are lucky if they can transform a member into a solo superstar -- there was only one Michael Jackson in the Jackson 5 and only one Justin Timberlake in 'N Sync. The '80s band New Edition, though, had six total members and four major spinoffs, all taking advantage of the sexy, staccato, heavily synthesized, hip-hop-sympathetic R&B style known as new jack swing. Bobby Brown was the most successful of these, even before he married Whitney Houston, but Ralph Tresvant, Johnny Gill and the Bell Biv DeVoe trio were big enough to sell millions of records and headline their own tours in the early '90s. For its latest reunion tour -- which hits the Nassau Coliseum tonight -- here's a scorecard of New Edition's membership.
1. JOHNNY GILL He was 17 when he became an R&B star, but this Washington, D.C., native sang like a grown Motown singer. New Edition hired him to replace Brown in 1987.
2. RALPH TRESVANT With a silky baby voice, Tresvant sang lead on many of New Edition's early hits, most memorably "Cool It Now." While he was the last member of the band to release a solo album, in 1990, he was also the swarthiest, flashing his bare chest, delving into hip-hop rhythms, dirty-talking on "Rated R" and pillow-talking on "Sensitivity."
3. MICHAEL BIVINS Bell-Biv-Devoe hits like "Poison" and "Do Me!" bring to mind a certain pop-cultural era -- Kangol hats, flappy sweatshirts, the "New Jack City" movie and square haircuts. Bivins would move on from BBD to work in the music business, discovering New Edition successors such as Another Bad Creation and Boyz II Men.
4. BOBBY BROWN He's troubled on this tour -- ex-wife Houston died in February, he was arrested for DUI in March and new wife, Alicia, had a diabetic seizure. But he's resilient. "The reality is, this is what we do and through our pain, through our suffering, this has been our medicine -- for all of us," Gill told the Raleigh News & Observer. "And this has been what has kept him going." Brown was the first to leave New Edition, reeling off sophisticated new-jack-swing hits like "My Prerogative."
5. RONNIE DEVOE New Edition's sound evolved throughout the '80s from the syncopated teeny-bopper music on 1983's "Candy Girl" to the grown-up R&B on 1988's "Heart Break." After working with super-producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis on "Can You Stand the Rain," Bell, Bivins and DeVoe headed in that direction with their own group.
6. RICKY BELL Bivins, Bell and Brown formed New Edition as elementary-school students in Boston in 1978 -- Ronnie DeVoe joined later. At first, they sounded like the Jackson 5 -- "Candy Girl" is almost an eerie copy of "ABC" -- but its rap breaks hinted at the band's more modern, future direction.