Boyz II Men may no longer dominate radio, sell albums by the millions or command attention as one of R&B’s most popular groups. But band member Nathan Morris has no complaints about the ensemble’s current circumstances.
“We call this our second career, which a lot of people don’t really get a chance to have,” he said in a recent phone interview. “We’re just excited to still be able to do what we love to do after 25 years.”
Today, Boyz II Men is back playing theaters, casinos and even the occasional amphitheater — including McGrath Amphitheatre in Cedar Rapids, where the band will appear with En Vogue on Wednesday night (8/30).
This second career began in 2004, after the ensemble had lost one of its members, bass vocalist Michael McCrary, and had taken a yearlong hiatus.
In returning to music, Nathan Morris, Shawn Stockman and Wanya Morris found that the music industry was getting turned upside down by the downloading of songs and that Boyz II Men’s career was close to being back at ground zero.
“It definitely wasn’t easy, not by any means,” Morris said. “You sell 60 million records around the world and then you take a long break, and you come back and the industry has changed. They’ve moved on to other newer artists. And the fact that you’ve been off the scene for a while, you have to kind of start over again. It was a little rough.”
Formed in 1988 while Nathan Morris and Wanya Morris (no relation), Stockman and McCrary were students at the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, the vocal group got signed by Motown Records, and with its 1991 debut album, “Cooleyhighharmony,” blasted onto the worldwide scene.
Mixing hip-hop and new jack swing with classic-sounding, doo-wop influenced vocals, “Cooleyhighharmony” featured the chart-topping R&B singles “Motownphilly” and “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.” The album sold more than 9 million copies.
But that wasn’t the peak. Next came a record-setting single, “End of the Road,” which topped Billboard magazine’s all-genre Hot 100 singles chart and held that slot for a record-setting 13 straight weeks.
The group’s 1994 sophomore album, “II,” produced two more No. 1 hits: “I’ll Make Love to You” (which held the top slot for 14 weeks) and “On Bended Knee.” It sold 12 million copies and won the 1995 Grammy for Best R&B Album.
Boyz II Men enjoyed one more triple-platinum album, 1997’s “Evolution,” before things dropped off, as both the 2000 album, “Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya,” and 2002’s “Full Circle” failed to reach platinum in sales.
Then came the departure of McCrary, who was said to be battling scoliosis, and the hiatus that extended until 2004.
The comeback was gradual as Boyz II Men, reinvented itself and went back to clubs to work its way back up the ladder.
Slowly, but surely, the size of the crowds and the venues the group played got larger. Three albums of cover tunes — “Throwback Vol. 1,” “Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville USA” and “Love” — pushed the group forward.
“Those records were actually key in our survival, because again, we were able to cover those (songs), and we were able to add those records to our repertoire,” Morris said.
Another coup was landing a residency in Las Vegas in 2013. This has not only given Boyz II Men a string of shows to anchor, but it has given tourists from around the world a chance to see the group perform, generating a new fan base along the way.
In 2011, Boyz II Men released the album “Twenty,” which included a dozen new songs and rerecorded versions of several of the group’s 1990s hits, followed by “Collide,” a collection of contemporary outside songs that range from ballads to R&B tunes and even some rockers — a collision of styles.
But with album sales down across the industry, most of the group’s efforts focus on its live shows.
“Obviously, we have to incorporate the classic songs — the songs people pay to hear,” Morris said. “Then we throw a little bit of new stuff in, as well. And we also throw in some covers here and there . ... And (recently), we decided to learn how to play a couple of instruments, so we have a little live section that we do now with our band where we play some songs on keyboards, guitars and stuff like that.”
WHAT: Boyz II Men & En Vogue
WHERE: McGrath Amphitheatre, 475 First St. SW, Cedar Rapids
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (8/30)
TICKETS: $29.50 to $85. U.S. Cellular Center Box Office, 1-(800) 745-3000 or Mcgrathamphitheatre.com
ARTISTS’ WEBSITES: Boyziimen.com and Envoguemusic.com