Formed at Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts by Nathan Morris and Marc Nelson (who eventually left), later joined by fellow school choir members Wanya Morris, Shawn Stockman and Michael McCrary, Boyz II Men found their inspiration in the echoes of their school bathroom and their city’s tradition in classic a cappella and doo-wop harmonies. Inspired by New Edition, they took their name from one of the group’s songs, and then impressed the band’s lead singer Michael Bivins with an impromptu backstage audition of “Can You Stand the Rain,” leading to his agreeing to manage and produce them.
UMe is marking the 25th anniversary of the release of Boyz II Men’s 1991, GRAMMY®-winning debut, Cooleyhighharmony and its multi- GRAMMY®-winning 1994 follow-up, II, with exclusive vinyl releases of both, with the latter, a two-LP set, for the first time ever on that format, on August 19.
Produced by Bivins and Dallas Austin, Boyz II Men’s debut album, Cooleyhighharmony – named after the real-life Cooley Vocational School in Chicago and inspired by the 1975 movie Cooley High – was originally released by Motown Records February 14, 1991. The album eventually peaked at #3 on the Billboard 200 and has sold more than nine million copies to date, winning a GRAMMY® for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals and a nomination for Best New Artist (they lost to singer/songwriter Marc Cohn). Cooleyhighharmony combined old-school street corner vocals with drums in the New Jack Swing style, multi-layered samples, a style dubbed “hip hop doo-wop.” All four members shared leads, featuring Wanya “Squirt” Morris’ vibrato, Shawn “Slim” Stockman’s tenor, Nathan “Alex Vanderpool” Morris’ baritone and Michael “Bass” McCarty’s low range.
The album’s first single, the Austin-produced “Motownphilly,” set the tone, an origin story in which Bivins raps how the group met, with a title perfectly describing a new Motown Sound. The song peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #1 on the R&B chart; the song’s popular video featured cameos by fellow high school alumni Black Thought and Questlove of The Roots. The album’s second single, the band’s cover of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday,” written by the husband-and-wife songwriting team of Freddie Perren and Christian Yarian and originally performed by G.C. Cameron for the Cooley High film soundtrack, hit the top of Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, and crossed over to #2 on the Hot 100, blocked only by Michael Jackson’s “Black or White.” The third single, “Uhh Ahh,” also topped the Hot R&B Singles chart and went to #16 on the Hot 100, and was later sampled by Beyonce Knowles for her 2011 song, “Countdown.” The final single released from the album, the Dallas Austin-produced “Please Don’t Go,” went to #8 on the Billboard R&B chart.
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