Born Usher Raymond IV on October 14, 1978, in Dallas, Texas; son of Jonnetta Patton (a choir director and later Usher's manager) and Usher Raymond III; one brother, James. Addresses: Record company--Arista Records, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10010. Website--Usher Official Website: http://www.usherworld.com.
If Usher's 1994 self-titled debut album wasn't embraced universally by critics, the enormous commercial success of Usher made the recording an auspicious beginning, and the fact that the singer was a mere 16 years old at the time of its release only redoubles its impressiveness. After forming a bond with sought-after producer/rapper Sean "Puffy" Combs, who had overseen Usher's first album, the young artist teamed up with award-winning producers Antonio "L.A." Reid and Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds to create the follow-up album entitled My Way. Several strong singles, including the chart-topping "You Make Me Wanna" and "Nice & Slow," My Way ensured that Usher would obtain platinum-selling certification along with his high school diploma.
Setting his sights upon acquiring a range of talents, Usher had concentrated on honing his vocal skills and songwriting, and even began to dabble as an actor in several television series, including Moesha, opposite singer Brandy, and in films such as The Faculty and the 2001 Western Texas Rangers. By the early 2000s, Usher was ready to put all his talents together in an enterprise of hitmaking at a new level. Two powerhouse CD releases, 8701 and Confessions, made Usher a top-rank R&B and pop star by 2004.
Usher was born Usher Raymond IV, on October 14, 1978, in Dallas, Texas. Within a year of his birth, he moved with his mother to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Although left without a father, Usher never lacked the positive influence of a nurturing, supportive extended family of cousins, uncles, and his mother Jonnetta, who would later assume the role of Usher's manager. After relocating to Atlanta, Georgia with Usher and his younger brother James, Jonnetta Patton introduced her son to the church choir which she directed, and as is the case with many other R&B vocalists, the gospel experience was to prove invaluable training. However, Usher claims that an encounter with the 1970 hit single "I Want You Back" by the Jackson 5 was perhaps his first impetus towards a passion for singing. "That was my beginning, even before I started singing in church," Usher told Entertainment Weekly. "I used to hum and sing with the radio, but I wasn't really serious about it. But when I heard that song, I was inspired."
Conscious of her son's budding talents, Jonnetta Patton sought to give Usher a high profile by entering him in a number of talent competitions. Within a year, Usher had scored heavily on the nationally televised Star Search program, a victory which prompted a scout for the LaFace label to tap the young crooner for an audition with producer L.A. Reid. With little hesitation, Reid signed Usher onto the LaFace roster to begin recording a full-length album with co-producer Sean "Puffy" Combs and several other technicians. Although hardly a seasoned veteran, the young Combs was a much needed guide to the even younger Usher, and the two have subsequently toured together. By 1994, the fruit of Combs and Usher's studio sessions was released under the straightforward title Usher, to little critical fanfare. Still, while Usher's 14 tracks ultimately proved to be at best a training ground for the singer's emerging style, the album produced a gold-selling single, "Think of You," which gained the favor of international audiences.
Before embarking upon his second full-length release, Usher kept to the task of refining his performance range and also found time to lend his talents to several small projects. Taking advantage of Usher's already evident following of young listeners, the Coca Cola company chose his voice to deliver its jingle for the 1995 holiday season. In addition, Usher collaborated with a number of vocalists to create the ad hoc outfit Black Men United, who harmonized on a track made expressly for the soundtrack for the film Jason's Lyric. To round out this busy schedule, which at that time still included schoolwork, Usher took his first steps in learning the craft of songwriting, hoping to add to his portfolio as a maturing entertainer. "I want to show people that I've grown a lot since my last album, and writing was a part of that process," Usher told MTV News in the fall of 1997.
Up to the Challenge
The first of Usher's efforts at tunesmithery could not have been any more encouraging. Co-written with Jermaine Dupri, a producer affiliated with the So So Def label, Usher's 1997 single "You Make Me Wanna" rocketed up the Billboard magazine sales charts, peaking at the number one position, where it remained for 11 consecutive weeks. In the wake of such massive popularity, the release of Usher's second album was to be a highly anticipated event for a growing base of fans, and as its eventual triple platinum-selling status would testify, My Way was up to the challenge. Benefiting from the talents of several of the recording industry's most lucrative producers, including L.A. Reid and Babyface, Usher's second album was a more diverse affair than his debut outing. Out of My Way's nine tracks, six were penned by Usher along with Dupri, with whom Usher developed a strong working relationship. "This time around I wanted people to know Usher," the singer explained on his homepage, "so Jermaine and I just hung out a lot so he got to see my life." Channeling both the tender and euphoric sides of Usher's life into recorded cuts, Usher and his collaborators came up with a number of upbeat dance songs as well as soulful ballads, the latter receiving the special touch of Babyface (who had produced award-winning ballads for the group Boyz II Men, as well as for his own career as a vocalist).
Despite a solid vote of endorsement from millions of listeners, Usher's relationship with the critics did not consistently improve. The review for My Way that appeared in Rolling Stone was mixed at best. While Rolling Stone could not deny the infectiousness of "You Make Me Wanna," the album's opener, they found little else to recommend the album, writing that "Usher's voice lacks the force and nuance to make up for the thin, synthetic quality of the backing tracks. And you know there's a problem with the songwriting when you see the word hook plastered over the choruses in the lyric booklet." Nevertheless, audiences at large saw no problem with the catchiness of cuts like "Come Back" or the bass-centered "Just Like Me," nor with ballads such as "Nice & Slow," which was subsequently released as My Way's second platinum-selling single.
Demonstrated New Talents
As Usher's stature grew, so did the demand for his multiple talents. Proving again that he was more than simply a studio musician, Usher fully roused an audience at the legendary Apollo theater in Harlem, New York in a much-touted performance. "When you come to Apollo, you gotta sing, you gotta dance, you gotta give it up to the audience," Usher pointed out to MTV News. "They want to see that, and to get the response I got, when the song came on I came sliding out, all the audience bumrushed the stage. It's like, 'Damn! I think I'm a superstar.'" Such bravado made Usher a perfect candidate to round out the bill on cohort Sean "Puffy" Combs's own fall tour, as well as for later live dates supporting full-fledged stars Mary J. Blige and Janet Jackson. Nor did Usher's confidence stop at performing music, as his debut as an actor on the television series Moesha showed. After landing the supporting role of Jeremy, opposite the title role played by teenage singing sensation Brandy Norwood, Usher coolly told Jet magazine that despite any formal training, "I'm a natural. I have a talent to take words off paper and relate to it."
At the turn of 1998, Usher's career seemed to be on an unstoppable upward trajectory, and not solely on the basis of consistently solid record sales. Usher was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance, and he walked away with a statuette in the same category at the Soul Train Awards a month later. In addition, Usher's inaugural efforts as an actor resulted in a brief stint on the daytime soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful, as well as in an invitation to the big screen as an actor in a spoof horror film, The Faculty. Pegged by Essence magazine as one of a new "hot generation" of stars marked by youth and unshakable positiveness, Usher continued to sharpen his skills and widen his sights. "I guess I am an usher in a way," he quipped to Jet magazine. "I'm ushering in something very new, very fresh. Hopefully, it'll have longevity. That's my goal. I don't want to be stereotyped as just a hip-hop artist or an R&B artist. I want to cover it all."
Part of Usher's appeal was his ability to connect with listeners of various ages. He had a powerful voice shaped by early exposure to passion-drenched vocalists of the 1970s such as Donny Hathaway and, especially, Marvin Gaye; a sweaty club audience of over-21 dancers would hear an unmistakbly sexy streak in his singing. Yet Usher avoided the raunchy antics of his R&B rival R. Kelly. "Usher's the kid you don't mind your lady or daughters listening to," Black Entertainment Television (BET) programming vice president Stephen Hill told Newsweek. He's got this innocent thing about him that makes you like him instantly."
Usher also took care to hone his physical image, working out with weights so that he could show off his buff physique on stage and dressing in European designer clothes. "I'm a flamboyant type of guy, a cooler version of Liberace," Usher told Interview. Usher's 2001 album 8701, his first for the Arista label, spawned several big hits, including the Grammy-winning and chart-topping ballad "U Remind Me." The album's title referred to the span of time between 1987 and 2001, and to Usher's evolution as an artist over that time. The year 2001 also saw Usher appear in the Western-themed film Texas Rangers. He added horseback riding to his range of talents, confidently asserting that he could ride a horse at the audition even though he had never ridden one before.
With his 2004 album Confessions, Usher broke through to yet another new level. The infectious appeal of his new music was telegraphed by the success of the single "Yeah!," released before the album itself. The central eight-note synthesizer keyboard motif of that song was a constant on top 40 radio in the spring of 2004, with a guest appearance by top rapper Ludacris helping boost the tune's profile. No less pervasive was the album's ballad entry "Burn," released to radio as the album's second single. Confessions sold 1.1 million copies in its first week of release. If any measure of Usher's rank as an A-level celebrity was needed, one had only to turn to newspaper gossip pages, where Usher's breakup with Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas, formerly of the vocal group TLC, was chronicled. The breakup left Usher one of America's most eligible single men. "Lucy Liu, give me a call," he told People "Jennifer Lopez, we can dance meringue. Halle Berry, I understand. I will listen to you!" Whether in the romantic or the musical realm, Usher was at the top of his game.
Usher continued his winning streak in November of 2004, winning every award he was nominated for at the 32nd American Music Awards. He picked up trophies for Favorite Soul/R&B Artist, Favorite Pop/Rock Artist, Favorite Pop/Rock Album (for Confessions), and Favorite Soul/R&B Album (also for Confessions). He also won three Grammy Awards and received the NAACP Image Award for outstanding male artist.
Although he has been successful as an entertainer, Usher has set his sights on business in recent years. He told Bret Pulley in Forbes, "Spielberg, Geffen, Scorcese--I
by Sean Frentner and James M. Manheim
Singer and actor. Released debut album, Usher 1994; released My Way, 1997; released Live, 1999; released 8701, 2001; released Confessions, 2004. Television appearances include: Moesha 1997-99; The Bold and the Beautiful, 1998; Promised Land, 1999; The Famous Jett Jackson, 2000; Geppetto (movie), 2000; Sabrina the Teenage Witch, 2002; The Twilight Zone, 2002; American Dreams, 2002; 7th Heaven, 2002; Soul Food, 2003. Film appearances include: The Faculty, 1998; She's All That, 1999; Light It Up, 1999; Texas Rangers, 2001.
First place, Star Search, 1992; favorite male singer, Blockbuster Awards, for My Way; pop music award for "You Make Me Wanna" from My Way, American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers; best R&B/soul single award for "You Make Me Wanna" from My Way, Soul Train Awards, 1998; Billboard Artist of the Year, 1998; pop music award for "Nice & Slow" from 8701, American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers; pop music award for "U Got It Bad" from 8701, American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers; Grammy Award for best male R&B performance, Recording Academy, for "U Remind Me" from 8701, 2001; best R&B/soul album, male, for 8701, Soul Train Awards, 2002; favorite male singer, Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards, 2002; Grammy Award for best male R&B performance, Recording Academy, for "U Don't Have To Call" from 8701, 2002; best love song award, Teen Choice Awards, for "U Got It Bad" from 8701, 2002; favorite R&B artist for 8701, Teen Choice Awards, 2002; best R&B male artist award for 8701, BET Awards, 2002; favorite hook up, Teen Choice Awards, for "Yeah" from Confessions, 2004; favorite R&B track, Teen Choice Awards, for "Yeah" from Confessions, 2004; favorite R&B artist, Teen Choice Awards, for Confessions, 2004; favorite album, Teen Choice Awards, for Confessions, 2004; best dance video, MTV Video Music Awards, for "Yeah" from Confessions, 2004; best male video, MTV Video Music Awards, for "Yeah" from Confessions, 2004; best male R&B artist award for Confessions, World Music Awards, 2004; best male pop artist award for Confessions, World Music Awards, 2004; best male artist award for Confessions, World Music Awards, 2004; best R&B act for Confessions, MOBO Awards, 2004; hip-hop artist of the year, Radio Music Awards, 2004; hip-hop song of the year, Radio Music Awards, 2004; Cingular Artist of the Year, 2004; four American Music Awards, including Favorite Male Artist, Pop or Rock; Favorite Album, Pop or Rock; Favorite Male Artist, Soul/Rhythm & Blues Music; and Favorite Album, Soul/Rhythm & Blues Music, all for Confessions.; 11 Billboard Music Awards, including artist of the year; R&B/hip-hop album artist of the year; Billboard 200 artist of the year; mainstream Top 40 artist of the year; R&B/hip-hop artist of the year; Hot 100 artist of the year; R&B/hip-hop album of the year and Billboard 200 album of the year, both for Confessions; Hot 100 single of the year, Hot 100 airplay single of the year, and mainstream Top 40 single of the year, all for "Yeah!"; three Grammy awards, including best contemporary R&B album for Confessions, best rap/sung collaboration for "Yeah!" with Lil Jon & Ludacris, and best R&B performance by a duo or group with vocals for "My Boo" with Alicia Keys, 2005; NAACP Image Award for outstanding male artist, 2005.
- Selected discography
- Usher LaFace, 1994.
- My Way LaFace, 1997.
- Live LaFace, 1999.
- All About U LaFace, 2000.
- 8701 Arista, 2001.
- Confessions Arista, 2004.
- Ebony, January 1998.
- Entertainment Weekly, April 3, 1998.
- Forbes, May 9, 2005, p. 94.
- Jet, March 9, 1998; August 27, 2001, p. 56.
- Interview, November 2000, p. 121.
- Newsweek, May 13, 2002, p. 62.
- People, April 19, 2004, p. 67.
- Rolling Stone, December 25, 1997.
- Time, February 23, 1998.
- "Usher," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (July 6, 2004).
- "Usher," Arista Records, http://www.aristarec.com/aristaweb/Usher/info.html (July 5, 2004).
- "Usher," MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/news/gallery/u/usher (July 6, 2004).
- "Usher wins big at American Music Awards," CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2004/SHOWBIZ/Music/11/14/music.awards.ap/index.html (November 15, 2004).