Usher - Biography
By David Downs
R&B’s leading man Usher was signed to the influential LaFace Records before he had even hit puberty. He has since matured into a highly emotive bedroom lothario who dominates the R&B charts with pleasure-obsessed songs like the 2008 epic “Love in This Club.” His debut album, Usher (1994 LaFace), showed a silky smooth baby’s voice, while his breakthrough platinum follow up, My Way (1997 La Face), established his seductive skills with singles like “You Make Me Wanna…,” “My Way,” and “Nice & Slow.” His third album, 8701 (2001 Arista), almost hit number one on the Billboard 200, a spot he soon earned for the smash follow-up Confessions (2004 Arista), which was produced by the likes of Jermaine Dupri and Lil Jon. Usher released his fifth album, Here I Stand (2008 LaFace), in 2008 with production from Dupri, will.i.am, Stargate, The-Dream, and Dre & Vidal. Usher’s singles have charted more than one hundred times, his albums have sold more than 30 million worldwide, and he has earned five Grammys. Millions of fans worldwide anticipate more work from the lady’s man, who is now married with children.
Usher Terry Raymond IV was born October 14, 1978, in Dallas, Texas and lived a life of music from an early age. He was singing in church choirs by the age of six, urged on by his single mother Jonnetta Patton – a medical technician who would later quit and become his manager. Usher grew up with a brother in Chattanooga, Tennessee and later Atlanta, Georgia. Before puberty, he had sung in multiple groups and released a regional album. Usher began participating in local talent shows and was spotted on the television show Star Search where he held a note for an extremely long 12.3 seconds. There, Bryant Reid, brother of LaFace Records co-president Antonio Reid, picked up on the precocious crooner and arranged an audition. Reid quickly offered the boy a contract.
Usher recorded and released his self-titled debut, Usher (1994 LaFace), co-produced by Reid and Sean “P Diddy” Combs. Usher was just fourteen during the production, but the album is remarkably assured and features some of the slickest R&B production of the period. However, some of the adult themes seem comical coming from such a youngster. Usher also befriended fellow R&B chart-smasher Alicia Keys around this time and went on to graduate North Springs High School in Sandy Springs, Georgia.
Soon after graduation, Usher entered the studio to record what would be his breakthrough album My Way (1997 LaFace). Jermaine Dupri of So So Def Records produced the album and Usher wrote five of the album’s nine tracks. R&B icons Babyface, Teddy Riley, and Dupri handled the rest, while Usher spent six months living at Dupri’s home. The first single, “You Make Me Wanna…,” is a sultry ode to leaving one’s lover for another. The song showed Usher on the other side of puberty, even more assured and smooth. Hype for the single fueled the sales of the album, which was released close to Usher’s 19th birthday in 1997. The single shot to the top of the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles chart and hit number two on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart, fighting with Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind ‘97.” The second single, “Nice & Slow,” was even more of a bedroom jam, appealing to the female segment of his fan base. “Nice & Slow” became both a Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles and a Billboard Hot 100 number one. By 1998, My Way had gone double platinum, helped by the video for “Nice & Slow,” which was directed by Hype Williams and filmed on location in Paris. Usher earned his first Grammy nomination for the album. When he appeared at the awards telecast, he inadvertently introduced Album of the Year award-winner Bob Dylan as “Bill” before an international television audience.
Usher’s third studio album became an even bigger seller, despite the delay of the release. 2001’s 8701 (2001 Arista) was originally titled All About U. The first single, “Pop Ya Collar,” did not match United States sales expectations and the album was retooled for a July, 2001 release. The first two singles, “U Remind Me” and “U Got It Bad,” went to number one on both the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles and the Billboard Hot 100. Usher used producer Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, as well as writers Edmund Clement and Anita McCloud for “U Remind Me.” “U Got It Bad” was penned by Usher, Dupri, and Bryan Michael Cox, and produced by Dupri. Help from The Neptunes and Pharrell Williams launched the single “U Don't Have to Call” to number three on the Billboard Hot 100. “U Remind Me” and “U Don't Have to Call” both earned Usher Grammy Awards for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.
By 2002, 8701 had gone quadruple platinum and Usher was on-again/off-again with Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas from '90’s R&B group TLC. The relationship ended by 2003 and provided the material for 2004’s album Confessions (2004 Arista), Usher’s biggest hit yet. The album sold over one million copies in its first week. The now legendary club anthem “Yeah!” featured Lil Jon and Ludacris, and spent numerous weeks in the number one slot on the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles chart. Break-up single “Burn” had listeners reading into the lyrics for clues to Usher and Chilli’s split, and the song became yet another Billboard Hot 100 and Top 40 number one. Even more titillating was the track “Confessions Part II,” featuring lyrics alluding to a pregnant mistress. The jilted Chilli confirmed on a radio show that Usher had cheated on her, but Usher denied impregnating any mistresses. Eventually, Dupri stepped forward to claim responsibility as the real-life inspiration for the lyrics. The album became a cross-cultural smash, a Billboard 200 number one, and has sold over twenty million copies worldwide to date. It is certified diamond for ten million-plus sales in the United States, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. That year, Usher celebrated his 26th birthday in the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center with Sean “P Diddy” Combs, Patti LaBelle, Donald Trump, Naomi Campbell, Jay-Z, Jermaine Dupri, Pharrell Williams, and Mariah Carey.
In 2005, Usher won three Grammys: Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for “My Boo,” Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for “Yeah!,” and Best Contemporary R&B Album for Confessions. His DVD box set, Truth Tour: Behind the Truth – Live from Atlanta (2005 Zomba), went platinum seven times.
The next year, Usher expanded his career path by acting in the role of Billy Flynn in the long-running Broadway musical Chicago. Also in 2006, Usher and Alicia Key’s 2004 duet single “My Boo” went platinum. In 2007, Usher married personal stylist Tameka Foster in a civil ceremony and prepped for the most anticipated album of his career. The hype began with the smash single “Love in This Club,” released in February of 2008, which became yet another Hot 100 number one and spent three consecutive weeks there. Here I Stand (2008 Jive) was released in May at the number one spot on the Billboard 200. The follow-up single “Love in This Club, Part II,” features Beyoncé Knowles and rapper Lil Wayne. Usher followed the album’s release with a string of ladies-only shows and in 2009 he performed with Stevie Wonder at the We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial. Usher's narcissism reached new heights when he called his next record Raymond Vs. Raymond (2010), which was followed by the no less subtle Looking 4 Myself (2012.)
Usher has branched off into television, film, and restaurants. He has appeared on programs like The Oprah Winfrey Show, Moesha, and The Bold and the Beautiful, plus in several films. He owns the record label US Records, and well as a stake in the Cleveland Cavaliers. He has two sons and three stepsons.