There was clearly something different about Toriano Easley. It was apparent in the way he walked, his interaction with every person in the building, and in his compliance with the rules and regulations of Community Sentencing (which were firmly enforced by his Case Manager Sha’Vonna Moore.) After visiting with Sha’Vonna during his scheduled appointment, Toriano opened up about his past and revealed a storybook history that would get the entire office talking.
“Do you remember the R&B group Hi-Five?” Toriano asked. “I’m an original member of the band.”
Initially Toriano’s revelation was met with a hint of suspicion. When quizzed about the accuracy of his story, Toriano instructed his Case Manager to look up the information. After a quick search on YouTube, staff members were pleasantly surprised to spot a young Toriano singing in harmony and dancing to synchronized-group choreography. As he pointed to the screen and individually named his famous four group members, Toriano began to discuss the experience of being a member of one of R&B’s legendary acts.
“I was born and raised on the Eastside of Oklahoma,” Toriano said. “I grew up singing in church. I dated the group’s lead singer’s sister. We would sing back and forth over the phone.” Tony was a well-known signer around Wacko, Texas. After wining a number of amateur singing competitions, Tony was introduced to music managers from New York. The managers were scouting young male singers in hopes of finding a group to compete with the recent success of New Edition. Tony recommended his friend from Oklahoma for the group and Toriano was called to audition over the phone. “It was wide open for a boy band. Our timing was superb. We were singing [New Edition’s] Can’t Stand the Rain at the right time.” The next few months were a whirlwind for the new group. They spend months in the studio working on their debut album with producer Teddy Riley. One song produced by Riley would put the band on the map and secure them a spot on the Billboard charts: “Teddy Riley was going to sell this song to [another group.] He heard us… and they couldn’t compete.” That song, titled The Kissing Game, was one of the group’s first hits. The quick taste of success lasted for a short period of time. “I was in prison when I first heard the song on the radio,” Toriano said. This dynamic silenced Toriano’s dreams of R&B stardom. At the age of seventeen, Toriano began a six-and-a-half term in prison.
Fast forward to today, the forty-two-year-old Toriano is still recording music and mentoring males from his community in Oklahoma. He’s assembled a new group, The True Five, and is looking forward to reconnecting with his fans. Toriano recently helped the staff at OK County Community Sentencing during their move to TEEM’s new headquarters. Like his talent, Toriano said that giving back is simply in his blood: “I’m just that type of person!”