It’s being billed as a “Battle of Boston,” but when New Edition and New Kids on the Block share the stage at this weekend’s American Music Awards, there’ll be no animus.
“It’s a brotherhood from Boston,” says New Kid Donnie Wahlberg. “That’s how we see it.”
Sunday’s awards show — airing on ABC at 8 p.m. — will mark the first time the two Boston-bred boy bands have performed together onstage, which is pretty remarkable considering how long the two groups have known each other.
New Edition’s first album, 1983′s “Candy Girl,” came out when Wahlberg was 13, a student at Phyllis Wheatley Middle School in Roxbury, which wasn’t far from Orchard Park, the neighborhood where New Edition — Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Bobby Brown, Ronnie DeVoe, and Ralph Tresvant — first got together.
“New Edition were a very big part of where I was musically then,” says Wahlberg. “I was into rap and rock, too, but I was a huge New Edition fan. They were also a big part of helping me — and a lot of other kids from Boston — be able to dream about something more than just, you know, whatever future was predetermined for kids from Boston.”
Beyond just geography, the two bands have some shared musical history, too. Maurice Starr, who signed and produced New Edition after seeing them perform at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester, later signed and produced NKOTB, who would go on to achieve enormous commercial success with their second album, 1988′s “Hangin’ Tough.”
Wahlberg says he and his bandmates — Joey McIntyre, Jordan and Jonathan Knight, and Danny Wood — were in awe of New Edition’s moves and melodies, and never viewed them as adversaries.
“Does anyone go into the NBA thinking they’re gonna be better than Michael Jordan?” says Wahlberg. “We didn’t feel that way because we saw New Edition as all-time greats. They were our heroes, not somebody we were competing against.
“The only thing we would have hoped for is to earn their respect,” says Wahlberg. “I still remember when Maurice introduced me to [Tresvant] early on. I was a young kid trying to get into the game, and here’s this guy who was part of a band that was a legend in my eyes. I was just happy he talked to me.”
Over the years, New Edition drifted apart: Brown left the group in the mid ‘80s and Johnny Gill joined; later, Bell, Bivins, and DeVoe formed the R&B/hip-hop group Bell Biv DeVoe, whose 1990 album, “Poison,” went quadruple-platinum. But the group reunites periodically, and a 2022 tour is in the works.
Still, they’ve never performed with New Kids.
“We opened for Bobby [Brown] at the Sportsmen’s Tennis Club in 1986; we played with Bell Biv Devoe at Fenway Park last summer; and Johnny [Gill] has come out at our shows,” says Wahlberg. “But we’ve never been New Kids and New Edition together.”
That it’s finally happening Sunday is exciting — and emotional — for the members of New Kids.
“I was FaceTiming with Joey [McIntyre] the other night and he had, literally, tears in his eyes, saying, ‘Dude, I used to sit on the floor listening to ‘Lost in Love’ over and over, and now we’re performing with them!’”
Asked if the two groups would consider taking the show on the road, Wahlberg said yes.
“It’s something we would love to do,” he says. “But, first, I just want New Edition to tour because, as a fan, I want to go see them.”