This was written for the 1975 movie Cooley High, which is about a predominately black high school. In the film, it's used to reflect the powerful emotions that many students feel when high school ends and they must move on. The feelings described in the song apply to anyone who must leave something behind, and it is often used at funerals. It appears in the funeral scene of the movie Lethal Weapon 3.
The original version used in the movie was sung by G.C. Cameron, who was a member of The Spinners before the group left Motown records and he stayed with the label as a solo artist. This 1975 version hit #35 in the US.
This was written by the Motown producer and songwriter Freddie Perren and his wife, Christine Yarian. Perren co-wrote many hits of the '60s and '70s, including "ABC," "I Will Survive" and "More Than A Woman."
Boyz II Men were signed to Motown Records, and Cooleyhighharmony, which was named after the movie Cooley High, was their first album. The group met at the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts, and their a cappella recording of this song helped establish Boyz II Men as a classic vocal group similar to the doo-wop groups of the '50s that often started singing in high school. It was their second single after "Motownphilly," which introduced Boyz II Men as a Philadelphia group with a classic Motown sound, and included an interlude by Michael Bivens where he described the origins of the band. The marketing was authentic and it worked, as the group scored 5 #1 hits in the '90s and established themselves as one of the top vocal groups of all time. They quickly became more famous than their mentor Michael Bivens, who was a member of New Edition and Bell Biv Devoe.
Boyz II Men dedicated performances of this song to their tour manager, Khalil Roundtree, after he was murdered in Chicago when the band was on tour with MC Hammer in 1992.
This was produced by Dallas Austin, a Philadelphia-born record producer based out of Atlanta. He would go on to produce hits for TLC, Pink, Gwen Stefani, and Madonna, among others.
In America, this is the second-biggest a cappella hit of all-time, behind Bobby McFerrin's 1988 #1, Don't Worry Be Happy." According to the group, they had to push Motown to release the song as a single because the label didn't think radio stations would play it.