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Sunday, July 29, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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New Kids On The Block: An Up-Close Look At A Teen Phenomenon

Donnie Wahlberg, Danny Wood, Joe McIntyre, Jonathan Knight and Jordan Knight are New Kids on the Block, a quintet of talented, hardworking, clean-cut performers who have become this generation's heroes of the heart. How much do their fans love New Kids? Enough to buy an astounding 14 million records in the USA alone; keep their ``Hangin' Tough'' album on the charts for a mind-boggling 77 weeks; put three albums on the charts simultaneously; and rocket six of their singles into the Top Ten in one year. This excerpt from the book ``The Lives and Loves of New Kids on the Block'' examines the personal lives of these teen superstars.

DONNIE WAHLBERG

Nothing about the birth of Donald Wahlberg Jr. was particularly extraordinary. Donnie's debut on Aug. 17, 1969, was not much different from the births of his three sisters and four brothers before him - an occasion of much joy for parents Alma and Donald Wahlberg Sr.

He was called Baby Donnie, and he joined his big, happy family in their small home in the Dorchester section of Boston. A few years after Donnie's birth, another brother made the family complete.

The Wahlbergs did not have a lot in the way of material things. Donald Sr. was ``a union man,'' by Donnie's description, who drove a truck delivering food to schools and summer camps. Alma worked as a nurse's assistant at nearby St. Margaret's Hospital. The family owned their small home, but luxuries were few and far between.

When Donnie was a child, busing was in full swing in Boston. So when it was time for him to start kindergarten, he hopped aboard the school bus that would take him to the William Monroe Trotter School in the section of Boston known as Roxbury. It was a long ride - more than half an hour in each direction. But Donnie made friends on the bus and never minded the ride.

It was during those early elementary-school years that Donnie became exposed to the soul and rap music of his new black friends. He not only found he loved that kind of music, but he discovered a talent for it himself.

Donnie found another boy his age who also loved rap music and was bused to the Trotter School from Dorchester. This boy's name was Danny Wood, and the two struck up a friendship that's still going strong today. Donnie and Danny would spend many an afternoon and evening composing little rap ditties. Sometimes they did that rather than their homework.

Soon music began taking over more and more of Donnie's life. For he had found a musical idol to emulate: Michael Jackson. Donnie thought Jackson was incredibly smooth and cool, from the singing star's jewel-encrusted glove to the tips of his pointy black moonwalking shoes. And Donnie copied it all.

Donnie went on to Copley High School, where he continued with his interest in rap music and sports. He played baseball for the school team and began hanging out with a group of friends, including Danny Wood, who called themselves the Kool Aid Bunch. Soon they were performing at parties.

It was Donnie's rapping and Michael Jackson-like dancing abilities that brought him to the attention, one summer day in 1984, of a friend who suggested he audition for this new group that was being formed by Maurice Starr and talent manager Mary Alford.

For as the legend goes, once writer/

producer Starr got a look at Donnie's dancing, rapping and leadership abilities, New Kids was officially born.

JON AND JORDAN KNIGHT

The brothers, Jonathan and Jordan Knight, who helped put Dorchester, Boston, on the map were born into a family originally from Canada. Both sets of Jon and Jordan's grandparents, the Knights and the Putmans, live in Ontario. That's where Allan Knight, a carpenter by trade, and Marlene Putman met and married. The couple, who were musically

KIDSX X

KIDSX 1talented, settled in the Boston area and began to raise a family. They had three children of their own, and an adopted son, before Jonathan Rashleigh Knight was born in Worcester, Mass., on Nov. 29, 1968.

Jordan Nathaniel Marcel Knight made his appearance on May 17, 1970, and, just like the season, his personality, right from the start, was light, breezy, calm and refreshing.

The Knight family was a big one, but they never had a lot of money. Allan Knight gave up his carpentry job to become a minister; Marlene Knight, a college graduate, became a social worker.

When Jordan was about 4, the family moved. They found a huge house on a modest but lovely street in Dorchester that would more than satisfy their family's needs.

To a large degree, family life for the Knights revolved around Boston's All Saints Episcopal Church. That is where a deep-down fundamental love of music took root with all the Knights, but most especially with Jonathan and Jordan.

The choirmaster became good friends with the Knight family and took to working with Jon and Jordan on their vocal skills several days a week after school and before Mass on Sundays. It took a lot of dedication and determination to stick with a rigid schedule of so much practicing, but both Knight brothers turned out to be very determined, especially when it came to music.

As the boys hit their teen years their distinct personalities and interests began to emerge a bit more. Jon remained the quieter, more thoughtful, big-brotherly type, always, almost instinctively, looking out for Jordan. Although music and church remained important, Jon began to take pleasure in simple things he could do with his hands. Carpentry and gardening became his two favorite ``quiet time'' hobbies.

Creative, easygoing Jordan got even more into music when he hit his teen years. He fell in love with the music of the old soul group the Stylistics and began teaching himself to play the keyboards.

When Jon was 16 and Jordan 14 they received a message from their old elementary-school buddy, Donnie Wahlberg: ``This dude is looking to form a group and he wants you guys to audition.''

When Jon and Jordan went to that fateful audition in the summer of 1984 and met Maurice Starr and Mary Alford, they didn't even tell their mom about it. And though the Knight brothers got in right away, it took quite a bit of time before Marlene was convinced that this musical group was something she was going to let her boys become involved with.

DANNY WOOD

It was a fine sunny day in May of 1969 when Elizabeth and Daniel Wood Sr. brought a new baby home from the hospital. This child was not their firstborn, but he was a first of sorts: After having three lovely daughters, the whole family was thrilled there finally was a little boy in the house.

They named him Daniel Jr. and gave him the middle name William, after his mom's father.

Danny's dad worked for the U.S. Postal Service as a mail carrier, and in later years, when all the kids were in school full time, his mom took a job as an administrative assistant for the Boston School Committee.

The Wood family was not a wealthy one by any standards, but they were able to afford their own two-story home in Dorchester.

The Woods are Catholic, and family life revolved around church. They attended St. Ann's Church in Boston each and every week. And all the kids, not just Danny, sang their hearts out in the choir.

Danny flourished in school, and starting from kindergarten it was clear he would be an excellent student. His first and best friend was the kid he met on the school bus, Donnie Wahlberg.

Danny and Donnie found they had a lot in common. Both adapted well to their school environment and quickly made friends of all races and backgrounds. Both were interested in music and loved listening to the rhythm 'n' blues sounds their schoolmates were into; both found they were good at picking up the steps of street dancing. It was in the school chorus that Danny met and became friends with the Knight brothers, Jonathan and Jordan.

Danny's all-consuming passion throughout his childhood was sports. He played basketball and soccer, but he excelled in track.

It wasn't much of a stretch, when Danny hit his teens, to get into dancing. From his athletic background, Danny was always a smooth and natural mover.

When his best friend Donnie persuaded him to join New Kids, Danny knew right away it was something he wanted to do. But he had difficult decisions to make.

Danny had been bright enough in high school to qualify for a four-year academic scholarship to one of the most prestigious colleges in the country, Boston University. Had he not gotten that scholarship, it's doubtful his family could have afforded to send him there.

Danny knew right away he probably wasn't going to be able to give New Kids a full commitment and go to college at the same time. His parents were adamant that he accept the scholarship.

For one semester Danny attempted to do both. He accepted that hard-to-get scholarship and attended classes during the day and practiced with New Kids at night. But it wasn't working out. Danny's heart was with the group, not in the classroom.

It was a dean at the college who, after all was said and done, helped Danny make his decision. Danny remembers: ``The dean just said, `Look, your heart is with the group and it could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Go with it; your scholarship will always be waiting for you if you want to come back. You're not going to lose it.' ''

JOE MCINTYRE

Having blue eyes isn't the only thing that separates Joseph McIntyre from the other New Kids. For though little Joe and the guys feel like family now, he's the only one who didn't grow up in the Dorchester section of Boston and didn't know Donnie, Danny, Jon and Jordan before joining the group.

He came into the world on the last day of December 1972 in a hospital in Needham, Mass. Joe's folks, Thomas and Katherine, are deeply religious and immediately named their new blond bundle of joy Joseph, after St. Joseph.

Joseph Mulney McIntyre was the ninth (and last) child in the family. The role of ``youngest,'' as he is in New Kids, is one that comes naturally to Joe.

The McIntyre clan is devoutly Catholic, and going to church on Sundays was a family tradition. Little Joe served as an altar boy for several years, and he and his brother Tommy sang in the choir. It was clear, even back then, that Joe had a beautiful singing voice.

Unlike the other New Kids, Joe did not attend public school. Instead, he followed his sisters and brother into the parochial school system.

Of all the New Kids, he, the youngest, is the one who came to the band with the most performing experience.

Although Joe never had a formal lesson, he began singing at the age of 5 and added acting to his credits a year later. Joe joined the Neighborhood Children's Theater of Boston and, along with 60 or 70 other youngsters, put on musicals such as ``Oliver'' and ``The Music Man,'' plus straight dramatic productions such as ``Our Town.''

By the time Joe entered Catholic Memorial High School, he was already part of New Kids. It's easy to forget that Joe joined in 1985, before his 13th birthday, and with the other Kids worked hard for several years before the album ``Hangin' Tough'' brought them fame. His biggest disappointment was when the band really took off and he had to work with a tutor on the road - and he didn't make the honor roll for the first time in his high-school career.

But that wasn't his biggest problem as the youngest member of New Kids. When he joined in June of 1985, the core of the group was already in place. Not only did they all know each other, but Joe was brought in to replace a good friend of Donnie's, a neighborhood boy named Jamie Kelly whose parents did not want him in show business.

Joe was specifically recruited by New Kids producer Maurice Starr, who went looking for a boy who was younger than the others, with a sweet, high-pitched voice. The idea was to create a group similar to the Osmonds of the '70s - and they wanted a Kid who not only could hit those high notes, but who could also conceivably be a teen idol. Everyone in the group understood the concept when Joe was brought aboard, but that didn't make it any easier for them to accept him right off.

Joe is 17 now. Although he plans to stay with New Kids for a long time, in the back of his creative head is the idea that maybe someday he'll be a journalist, or even write a book.

(Copyright, 1990, by Jill Matthews. Excerpted from ``The Lives and Loves of New Kids on the Block.'' Reprinted by permission of Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster Inc.)

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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