It was May of 1992 and Boyz II Men were at the top of their game.
They had just won a Grammy for best R&B performance by a group or duo with vocals for their debut album “Cooleyhighharmony.” They had hit songs such as “Motownphilly” and “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye” playing on the radio. And they were playing in front of massive crowds while out on tour with the soon-to-be legendary MC Hammer.
The kids from Philadelphia were in a middle of a dream come true.
That is, until their own personal nightmare began.
“I can’t think about Chicago without thinking of what happened there,” Boyz II Men member Wanya Morris says, referring to the shooting incident on the city’s Gold Coast that took the life of their road manager Roderick Roundtree nearly 27 years ago. “Our relationship with Chicago changed, right then and there. The fans really rallied around us and showed us love. Things got personal. And ever since then, that relationship has been tremendous.”
BOYZ II MEN
When: 8 p.m. March 29
Where: The Venue at Horseshoe Casino, 777 Casino Center Dr., Hammond, Indiana
Tickets: $63 – $95
BOYZ II MEN
When: 8 p.m. March 30
Where: The Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora
Tickets: $59 – $140
Indeed, the strong dynamics of that enduring relationship will certainly play out come March 29 and 30, as the now trio made up of tenors Morris and Shawn Stockman and baritone Nathan Morris make two stops in the Chicago area as part of a 25th anniversary tour for “II,” their 1994 biggest-seller (more than 12 million copies were sold in the U.S. alone).
“The stage is where we live and where we thrive,” explains Morris. “It’s unheard of for a group to be able to go out there without an album on the marketplace and still draw the crowds we do. I’ve come to realize that these songs live forever, and these shows give our fans a moment to get away and feel them again.”
As the group readies to head overseas and then continue their longstanding Las Vegas residency come April, Morris says that the group loves to still be able to revisit their arsenal of songs and perform them with a whole new mindset.
“The funny thing is that years ago, I used to sing these songs with some big emotion, but I didn’t even know,” Morris says with a chuckle. “I hadn’t experienced half of the things we were singing about. But that acting aspect is now gone. We have all dealt with a lot, and now that we have experienced so much, I think we can reach people even better.”
Initially, the group was formed within the classrooms and hallways of Philadelphia’s High School for the Creative and Performing Arts.
“We were not some sort of contrived group,” Morris emphasizes. “That’s one thing we pride ourselves on as a group in the ’90s. We did things that were non-conventional. We didn’t do things just because we thought it would be cool. Everything was driven by the creative process. We always tried to step into what felt right and then waited to see what God had planned for us.”
And God had much planned for them. Not only did the singers rake in a slew of awards and chart successes throughout their career, but they also formed a kinship that’s stronger than ever.
“Music put us together,” Morris says. “We fell in love with our sound before we fell in love with each other. Having the chance to make something beautiful created a brotherhood that has stood the test of time. They are my family.”
And that family continues to grow, as the group have found themselves spreading their wings into new territory in recent years. Come May, they’ll be featured in a new movie alongside Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen titled “Long Shot.” And this week, the band is featured on a new episode of the popular CMT “Crossroads” series alongside country music hitmaker Brett Young.
“Nashville and country music was a totally different realm for us,” laughs Morris about the show that had the trio showcasing their unmistakable harmonies on the stage of the iconic Grand Ole Opry. “I mean, people aren’t accustomed of seeing three black guys singing on CMT. [Laughs] But it’s crazy to think that even Brett [Young] were somehow influenced by us and our music. I guess we have touched a lot of people that we don’t even know.”
Tricia Despres is a local freelance writer.