Born in Boston in 1969, singer Bobby Brown became famous in the 1980s and early 1990s for hits including "Don't Be Cruel" and "Humpin' Around." His musical fame, however, became eclipsed in the late 1990s by his troubled marriage to pop star Whitney Houston, who he eventually divorced in 2007.
Robert Brown was born on February 5, 1969, in the hardscrabble Orchard Park projects in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. He was the second youngest of eight children born to Herbert Brown, a construction worker, and Carol Brown, an elementary school teacher. Brown endured a very rough childhood marred by poverty and gang violence. Knowing that his parents could not afford to buy him the various things he coveted as a child, Brown and his friends turned to stealing. "I didn't want to ask my mother or my father because they didn't have a lot of money," Brown remembered. "I'd just go to the store and take it. If I wanted a sweat suit or a pair of shoes, I'd just go pick them up." Brown also got caught up in Roxbury's gang wars. At the age of 10, he was shot in the knee when a skirmish broke out between rival gangs at a block party. A year later, Brown got into an altercation with an acquaintance who pulled a knife and slashed his shoulder. The turning point in Brown's childhood came shortly after, when his close friend James Flint was stabbed to death at a party at the age of 11. "When his friend passed, you could see Bobby taking his career, his schooling, his whole life more seriously," Brown's brother Tommy recalled. "As kids, everyone had their dreams, but his loss made him more determined."
Forming New Edition
Brown had dreamed of becoming a singer ever since he saw James Brown perform at the age of 3. He started out singing in church choir, where he distinguished himself with his beautiful and passionate voice. At the age of 12, he formed a group with his friends Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Ralph Tresvant and Ronnie DeVoe. Calling themselves New Edition, they rehearsed with a focus and discipline very rare for a group of pre-teen boys. After winning several talent shows, New Edition was discovered by producer and talent scout Maurice Starr, who landed them a recording contract with a small label called Streetwise in 1983. That year they released their debut album, Candy Girl, a sugary sweet collection of songs that made the group an overnight sensation. The title track, "Candy Girl," was highly reminiscent of The Jackson 5's "ABC."
In 1984, New Edition switched to MCA Records and released a self-titled follow-up album that eclipsed the success of Candy Girl with hit singles such as "Cool It Now" and "Mr. Telephone Man." However, despite the enormous success of their music, the members of New Edition still only received the small salary stipulated in their exploitative contract with MCA. "The most I saw for all the tours and all of the records we sold was $500 and a VCR," Brown said. Believing that they were being treated "like little slaves by people who were only interested in money and power, and not the welfare of New Edition," Brown left the group in 1986 to pursue a solo career.
In December 1986, Brown released his first solo album, King of Stage. While the album sold modestly and scored one major hit with the ballad "Girlfriend," it failed to generate the level of excitement and acclaim for which Brown had hoped. Seeking to reinvent himself as an adult artist, Brown spent the next two years working closely with the acclaimed R&B songwriters and producers Teddy Riley, L.A. Reid and Babyface. The result of their collaboration, released in the summer of 1988, was a radically new R&B album called Don't Be Cruel that took the music world by storm, selling seven million copies on the way to becoming the bestselling album of the year. Brown's high-powered, sexually charged music and live performances earned him comparisons to his childhood idol Michael Jackson. In 1990, Brown recorded "On Our Own," the smash-hit theme song for the movie Ghostbusters II, and in 1992 he released his third album, Bobby, featuring the singles "Humpin' Around" and "Good Enough."
However, just as Brown reached the summit of his popularity in the late 1980s and early 1990s, his personal life began to spiral out of control. Tabloids reported obsessively on Brown's hard-partying lifestyle—his heavy drinking, womanizing and drug abuse.
In the summer of 1992, Brown married fellow pop star Whitney Houston in one of the most highly publicized celebrity weddings in history. However, theirs was a tumultuous relationship from the start. They both drank heavily and became addicted to marijuana and cocaine. Brown was arrested several times throughout the 1990s for drug use and drunk driving, and rumors of marital infidelity and domestic violence became a ubiquitous presence in the tabloids for years on end.
During his 15 years of marriage to Houston, Brown produced only one album, 1997's Forever, which was a commercial dud. Eventually Brown became more famous as Whitney Houston's abusive husband than as an artist. Brown and Houston divorced in 2007. Soon after, Brown began dating a woman named Alicia Etheredge. They were engaged in 2010 and have a child together, a son named Cassius. The couple married in June 2012.
In many respects, Bobby Brown's life reads like a classic cautionary tale about the perils of fame and fortune. For several years from the late 1980s to the early 1990s, he was one of the most popular entertainers alive, a young man many hailed as the second coming of Michael Jackson. Nevertheless, today Brown's name may be more closely associated with drugs and his troubled relationship with Whitney Houston than with his music. Brown's life may yet become a tale of redemption, however; drug-free after years of therapy, he released a single, "Get Out the Way," in early 2011. "I'm doing wonderful," Brown said. "I'm just moving forward with my life and trying to stay positive at all times."
That summer, Brown reunited with the other members of New Edition to play the Essence Music Festival. He also performed solo at the Gathering of Juggalos, a music festival organized by the band Insane Clown Posse. Brown, however, soon faced some personal challenges. That December, he lost his father after a battle with cancer. Brown was also reportedly deeply upset by the death of his ex-wife Whitney Houston in February 2012.
Tragedy struck again in July 2015 when his only daughter with Houston, Bobbi Kristina, died at the age of 22, after being in a medically induced coma for six months. Brown had just become a father again earlier that month when his wife gave birth to their second child, a baby girl, whom they named Bodhi Jameson Rein.
We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!