Originally from Deland, Florida, Johnson moved to Boston, Massachusetts, in the early 1970s. As an artist, Johnson was a member of The Johnson Brothers (not to be confused with The Brothers Johnson from Los Angeles, California) and the seminal electro group known as the Jonzun Crew with brothers Michael Jonzun and Soni Jonzun. In 1980, Johnson changed his name to Maurice Starr and recorded two R&B albums, Flaming Starr and Spacey Lady. Unsuccessful as a solo artist, and described as "a cross between Berry Gordy and P.T. Barnum," Starr decided to create a band to perform the songs that he wrote.
In 1984, Starr created New Kids on the Block, a band consisting of five male teenagers, brothers Jordan Knight and Jonathan Knight, with Danny Wood, Donnie Wahlberg and Joey McIntyre. Starr intended New Kids on the Block to be a white version of New Edition; he stated "I honestly believe that if they'd been white, (the group) would have been 20 times as big." By 1989, New Kids On The Block was the fastest-rising act in the United States. Starr also handled the group’s lucrative marketing of posters, T-shirts, and other spin-offs.