With lush a cappella harmonies, satin sheet balladry and boy-next-door charm, Boyz II Men ushered in a golden era of the boy band and went on to become the most successful R&B group of all time, with sales of more than 60 million records worldwide.
Founded in 1988 by then-teenagers Nathan Morris, Michael McCary, Wanya Morris, Shawn Stockman and Marc Nelson (who departed before their debut), the boys used their classically trained voices, courtesy of Philadelphia's High School of Creative and Performing Arts, to blend the Motown doo-wop sound they learned from the Temptations and the Four Tops with the new jack swing of New Edition and Bell Biv DeVoe.
"We were doing a lot of experimenting and trying new harmonies and fitting in the classical stuff we learned into R&B — like seeing the relationship between James Brown and Beethoven," Stockman told The Times in 1992. "We sang for the sheer joy of it. When you're young and learning something you love for the first time, there's a thrill you never really experience again."
After catching the attention of Michael Bivins of New Edition and Bell Biv DeVoe, the teens secured a deal with Motown Records. Boyz II Men's first album, “Cooleyhighharmony,” was released in 1991. The album was a smash with the singles "Motownphilly” and "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday." Their signature ballad, "End of the Road,” recorded for the "Boomerang" (1992) soundtrack, sat at No. 1 for 13 weeks — a record they broke two more times, with 1995’s "I'll Make Love to You" and the Mariah Carey collaboration "One Sweet Day,” which still holds the all-time record with 16 weeks.
Boyz II Men’s profile only rose with their sophomore album, 1994’s “II.” The album, which featured "On Bended Knee," "I'll Make Love to You" and "Water Runs Dry," sold more than 12 million copies in the U.S. Producers who worked on its songs included Tim & Bob, Babyface, and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis.
The group's success inspired a surge of R&B groups including Soul for Real, BLACKstreet, All-4-One, Dru Hill and Jagged Edge, and opened the door for pop boy bands including *NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys and 98 Degrees. But Boyz II Men always stood out from the pack as all four served as lead singers and used a clean-cut yuppie style to sell an image that was wholesome and at times sensual, but never overtly sexual — they aimed for staying power rather than being sex symbols, which they managed to become due to their distinctive voices and flair for handing out roses at their concerts.
"When we first came out, 'boy band' was never a description for us," Stockman told The Times in a 2000 interview. "It was a situation where we were young kids singing mature music. We sounded older than we were."
Boyz II Men released three more albums – “Evolution” (1997), “Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya” (2000) and “Full Circle” (2002) – before McCary had to depart the group for health reasons. As a trio they launched an era of covers albums including “Throwback, Vol. 1” (2004), “Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville USA” (2007) and “Love” (2009). An original album, “The Remedy,” was released exclusively in Japan in 2006.
In October 2011 the group released its 10th album, “Twenty,” to coincide with its 20th anniversary. The two-disc set featured original music and revamped versions of classics. Among the group's accolades are four Grammy Awards, seven Soul Train Awards and eight American Music Awards.
— Gerrick D. Kennedy for the Los Angeles Times