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From Donna Summer to New Kids on the Block, Boston’s urban music has proud tradition

Dart Adams
From Donna Summer to New Kids on the Block, Boston’s urban music has proud tradition
One of the first boy bands, Boston New Edition originally included Ronnie DeVoe, Bobby Brown, Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins and Ralph Tresvant. Hits like Candy Girl and Mr. Telephone Man made the group an international sensation.

1 Musicians Locals 9 and 535 were chartered back in 1897 and 1915 respectively making them the oldest musicians union in the United States. The Boston’s Musician Association (Local 535) was located in the South End where Jazz musicians enjoyed a concentration of several historic Jazz venues. They often left Harlem by train and got off at Back Bay Station in Boston to perform.

2 The first locations of the Boston’s Musicians Local 535 were above Charlie’s Sandwich Shop at 429 Columbus Ave and across the street from Mother’s Lunch on 380 Columbus Ave. Both restaurants were hangouts for Jazz musicians who stayed with South End residents or at Ella’s House on nearby West Canton Street. Later, Local 535 moved to 409 Mass Ave across the street from Wally’s Jazz Club’s original location (as Wally’s Paradise).

During this time everyone from Count Basie to Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway were members of Local 535. Local 535 (which served mostly the Black musicians) and Local 9 (an all White union) merged in 1970, resulting in Local 9-535 as it’s known today.

Boston’s Donna Summer became the Queen of Disco.

3 Donna Summer was born LaDonna Gaines in Boston and she was raised in Dorchester. She dominated the local talent circuit but spent time in New York doing theater and in Germany before becoming the Queen of Disco and redefining the importance of solo women in both R&B/Soul and Pop. Donna Summer inspired and influenced legions of women that followed in her footsteps.

4 Boston Funk is the name given to the sound pioneered by Arthur Baker, John Robie, Michael Jonzun, Maurice Starr, Gordon Worthy and other Boston area musicians that compromised the groups Jonzun Crew, Planet Patrol and Glory between the years of 1979 and 1982. By the time these musicians began producing, playing and recording seminal Hip-Hop hits in New York from 1983 on the music was categorized as Electro and it gained popularity on the West Coast and overseas.

5 Boston product Arthur Baker produced several seminal Hip-Hop & Electro classics. Those songs include Joe Bataan’s Rap-O Clap-O, Afrika Bambaataa and The Jazzy 5’s Jazzy Sensation, Planet Patrol’s Play At Your Own Risk and the song that made Hip-Hop/Rap music a global force, Afrika Bambaataa and The Soul Sonic Force’s Planet Rock.

6 Boston’s Jonzun Crew produced several classics for Sylvia Robinson’s Sugar Hill label including The Sugar Hill Gang and The Furious 5’s Showdown, Sequence’s Funky Sound (Tear The Roof Off), Brother To Brother’s Monster Jam and about a dozen other records. They used the money they made from producing for Sugar Hill to build Boston International Studios where they recorded several Jonzun Crew classics and New Edition’s Candy Girl album. The first full length album released on Tom Silverman’s Tommy Boy Records was Jonzun Crew’s Lost In Space in 1983.

7 MC Spice was the first rapper ever to be signed by Atlantic Records in 1987 and the first rapper from Boston signed to a major label. His single Don’t Treat Your Girly Like A Dog, Dog, Dog predated MC Lyte’s debut single I Cram To Understand U (Sam). MC Spice was later regarded as the “Hood A&R” and a writer/producer for Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch when they became Interscope Records’ first successful Rap act in 1991. He is now an active member of the Universal Zulu Nation.

8 A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and The Jungle Brothers (the three groups that comprised the core of The Native Tongues) all first met not in one of the five boroughs in New York but right in the South End of Boston near the campus of Northeastern University. The rest was history.

Author: (Phil Farnsworth photo)Bobby Brown was one of the original members of New Kids on the Block before he left to start his own solo career. Brown never reached his full potential, but he still continued with his music. Here, he is shown at Berkelee College of Music in 2007 rehearsing with several students.

9 In 1988, New Jack Swing began to dominate the urban music charts and Black radio before crossing over to the Pop/Billboard charts. Bobby Brown’s Don’t Be Cruel, New Edition’s Heart Break, Al B. Sure!’s In Effect Mode and New Kids On The Block’s Hanging Tough all became the biggest acts in all of urban and Pop music due to sales, accolades and tour monies. All of these artists and groups were born in Boston (Al B. Sure! was raised in Mt. Vernon, NY but he was born here in Boston).

Reunited after a 14-year hiatus, the New Kids on the Block have returned to the pop music scene. In his new book “Before the Legend: The Rise of the New Kids on the Block and a Guy Named Maurice Starr, The Early Years (An Unauthorized Biography),” author Tony Rose looked at the group’s beginnings, including their Roxbury connections.

Roxbury product Che Guevara was a former protégé of Teddy Riley (who had a studio in Boston at one point in time) and a former member of Wyclef Jean and Jerry “Wonder” Duplesis’ Refugee Camp All Stars production team. He produced Destiny Child’s breakout hit No, No, No (Part 2) in addition to one of the crew’s biggest hits Ghetto Supastar featuring Pras, Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Mya. He lent production work to Wyclef’s The Carnival and Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, two of the biggest Rap albums of all times. Che Guevara AKA Che Pope is now known as Che Vicious, head A&R of Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music.