There are hometown shows and then there are neighborhood hometown shows.
For Wanya Morris, Boyz II Men’s performance this Valentine’s Day weekend at The Met Philadelphia qualifies as the latter.
Morris, one-third of the “End of the Road” Philly R&B vocal group that achieved massive success in the 1990s, grew up in North Philly in the Richard Allen Homes, less than a mile from the Met. By his guesstimate, Morris walked by the hulking Broad Street building during its defunct decades “about a million times.”
On Saturday night, though, he and the Boyz — including fellow tenor Shawn Stockman and baritone Nathan Morris (no relation) — will perform their trademark hip-hop doo-wop at the newly restored opera house, which opened in December.
Boyz II Men are on their 25th anniversary tour for II, their 1994 biggest seller that sold more than 12 million copies in the United States. “This one is extra special,” Stockman said via email. “We recorded most of the songs in Philly as well as shot most of the videos for them there. So this a moment that comes full circle.”
The group formed during an illustrious time at the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, sharing classes with The Roots, jazz bassist Christian McBride, singer Amel Larrieux, and organist Joey DeFrancesco. The school was then at 11th and Catharine, not its current location on a section of south Broad that since 2017 is also known as Boyz II Men Boulevard.
The trio — a quartet until Michael McCrary left in 2003 — are on an upswing in a career that has had peaks and valleys since first breaking out with Cooleyhighharmony and “Motownphilly” in 1991.
Their II tour is playing sizable venues before returning to Las Vegas, where they hold down a residency at the Mirage casino resort, and where Wanya Morris, who’s 45, now lives. He spoke on the phone this week. An edited version of the conversation follows.
How long have you had the Mirage residency?
For about four years. Every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It’s a beautiful situation. We perform about 230 shows a year on tour and at corporate events. And Vegas means that all the people we’ve reached throughout the years can come see us. It’s a central location and a tourist attraction and Boyz II Men fits really well.
And it’s a romantic experience, right?
Definitely. You get to experience the love, the joy, the tears. All those things. And then you can make love.
At the Mirage!
Right. All in one place.
I see that your four sons sing together. How many kids do you have?
A lot! [Laughs].
How old are the boys? What are their names?
They’re 15 to 8. Wanya Jermaine Morris II, III, IV and V. They’re called Wanmorofficial.
Did you push them toward music?
No, they gravitated to it. They like to see their daddy performing onstage, rocking out. Two of them always sang, and I was talking to them while they were playing video games. I said, ‘You know, all of y’all can sing.‘
They were looking at me like: ‘What?‘ And I said, ‘You came from me, so that’s a gene that I’m actually passing on to you. All you have to do is listen, hear, and emulate what you hear. There’s no way your voice won’t gravitate to the notes, because it’s inside of you.
How old were you when you started?
My mother would say I was singing in the bassinet, but what mother wouldn’t say that? Probably 3 years old. My mom was in a singing group called Break of Dawn that had a single called “I Like Your Style,” and my dad was in a group called the Love Lads.
My mom and me used to take the 23 trolley and all through the whole ride we would sing harmony together. “Bubbling Brown Sugar,” from What’s Happening!!, songs like that.
Did you know any of the guys before you went to CAPA?
No, we were all from different parts of town. Shawn’s from Southwest, Nate’s from South Philly, and Mike, who’s no longer with the group is from Logan.
New Edition were obviously big for you. Michael Bivins signed you to your first record deal. What other vocal groups had an impact?
There was also Take 6, who were our teachers. And there were six of them and only four of us, so we had to figure that out. There was a gospel group called Commissioned. The Winans, people like that.
You snuck backstage at a Bell Biv DeVoe concert to audition. Where was that?
That’s was the Powerhouse show at the Spectrum. They were coming off stage and we asked if we could sing for them. We sang “Can You Stand The Rain,” a New Edition song.
Those first two albums were gigantic. Cooleyhigh sold 9 million, II sold 14 million. You either broke or tied the record for a song with most straight weeks at Number 1 three times. Did you get rich right off the bat?
No, not at all. We had a bit of a contractual issue with Michael Bivins, so it didn’t really benefit us financially until we did a deal on the second album with Motown.
You broke through in the period right before the music industry changed. Then boy bands came in and you were pushed aside. Did you resent that?
That was a phrase that was coined after us. We took a little time off after the II tour. We didn’t realize that the music industry was changing. Before it was hip-hop artists rapping a couple of bars on R&B songs. Then it became singers singing a couple of bars on a rap song.
When we came back, the record did well, but didn’t do what the record company expected. And it almost felt like Boyz II Men didn’t exist. They didn’t want to hear “I’ll Make Love to You.” They wanted to hear 50 Cent, ‘I’m into having sex, I’m not into makin’ love’ [from “In Da Club”].
How did you adapt?
It was a little depressing. But we came to the conclusion to go where the love was. And a lot of the success was overseas. So we went to Japan, Australia, the Philippines, Europe.
There was six or eight years where we would go overseas and make our money, and then we would come back and wait for the next thing. Then we got our new manager and he said, ‘We’re going to have to start all over. It’s going to be humbling.’
And it was. We went from Madison Square Garden for three nights to Pufferbelly’s [near Pittsburgh] with 50 people in the audience. We were playing the firehouse. There were mechanical bulls in the middle of the floor.
Since then, you’ve survived and thrived. You’ve had a lot of TV exposure. There was a Geico ad, where you made prescription drug side effects sound musical. You did Dancing With the Stars. Shawn was a judge on a music competition show…
The Sing Off. We did a lot of stuff. And we’d perform anywhere. In 25 years, Boyz II Men played the biggest venues and the most obscure places. The crowd followed us, and the corporate brands saw that we were a brand that they wanted.
How’s it feel to be playing the Met?
It feels good. … We’ve been doing this for a long time. It’s a Boyz II Men II show, so to be able to commemorate that time with a show of such stature, it makes good sense. And it’s a great notch in our belt.
Do you know Wanya Morris, the University of Tennessee offensive lineman who’s named after you?
I haven’t met him but we follow each other on Instagram. I’ve run into a lot of people who have named their sons after me, or kids that say, 'My mom met you at the mall, and she named me Wanya.’ I was the only Wanya for at least 20 years. Not anymore.
Boyz II Men
8 p.m. Saturday, Met Philadelphia, 858 N. Broad St., $49.50-176, 800-653-8000, themetphilly.com