Usher





Singer and actor

Born Usher Raymond IV, October 14, 1979, in Dallas, TX; son of Jonnetta Patton (a choir director and later his manager).

Addresses: Record company —Arista Records, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019. Website —http://www.usherworld.com/about-biography. php.

Career

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.

Awards: 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;

Usher
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;

Sidelights

Rhythm and blues singer Usher began his career as a teen singer in the 1990s, but his career has grown to include television and film acting as well as music. The winner of Grammy Awards and a Billboard Artist of the Year Award, Usher has seen his albums riding high on the No. 1 spot for weeks at a time.

Born Usher Raymond IV in 1978, Usher grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His father abandoned the family, but Usher's mother, Jonnetta Patton, gave him constant encouragement and support as he grew up. Usher told an Interview reporter, "She showed me the difference between good and evil. My dad never did. He split when I was born."

Usher also benefited from having an extended family of grandmothers and aunts. They all enjoyed R&B music, so he grew up listening to it. His first favorite song was the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back;" it inspired him to sing along. His mother, noticing his vocal talent, convinced him to join her church choir—a training ground for many well-known R&B singers. After he had honed his abilities in church, she entered him in talent contests, many of which he won.

Hoping to further nurture his abilities, his mother moved the family to Atlanta, Georgia, where many R&B singers had gotten their start. Usher continued to compete in singing contests and was selected to compete on the nationally televised show Star Search. He won the competition and signed a contract with LaFace Music in 1992.

At the time, the popularity of R&B was giving way to hip-hop, and one of the most well-known names in the hip-hop scene was that of Sean "Puffy" Combs, a performer and producer who had helped promote "gangsta" rap and who eventually became a multiplatinum-selling artist. Combs took Usher under his wing for a year, showing him the ropes, although Combs' style did not always feel comfortable for the young Usher. Usher told a People reporter, "That whole bad-boy thing, me frowning for the camera—that wasn't me." His first album, the self-titled Usher, sold modestly; one single, "Think of You," became a gold-selling hit, launching Usher's career.

In 1995, Usher was chosen to sing the Coca-Cola jingle in ads for the holiday season. He also joined other singers to create Black Men United, a group that sang on the soundtrack for the film Jason's Lyric.

Usher, wanting to take more control over his career and image, moved away from the Combs-inspired "bad boy" pose and began working with R&B producer Jermaine Dupri. He also began writing some of his own songs, working with Dupri; of the nine tracks on his second album, My Way, , six were cowritten with Dupri. Usher's new image paid off with My Way, which sold more than five million copies and appealed to listeners beyond the R&B niche, as it mixed R&B and hip-hop styles. Tracks that were especially popular included "You Make Me Wanna" and "Nice and Slow." "You Make Me Wanna" shot up the Billboard charts to No. 1, staying there for eleven consecutive weeks. The album was more diverse than Usher, a deliberate attempt to appeal to a variety of listeners with a mix of soulful ballads and lively dance songs.

One group did not find the album particularly appealing: the critics. A Rolling Stone critic noted that although "You Make Me Wanna" was catchy, "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." Despite this response, listeners loved the album.

While on tour to promote the album, Usher performed before an enthusiastic audience at the prestigious Apollo Theater in Harlem. He told a reporter for MTV News, "When you come to the Apollo, you gotta sing, you gotta dance, you gotta give it up to the audience. 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 I think I'm a superstar." As a result of the album's success, Usher was chosen to join Combs' fall tour, as well as for performance dates supporting singers Mary J. Blige and Janet Jackson. He was also named Billboard 's Artist of the Year in 1998. Usher, always grateful to his mother for all her support, gave her a Mercedes 420 automobile and a Cartier watch.

Usher also began acting, appearing on the teen television shows Moesha and Promised Land. Of his appearance on Moesha, he told a Jet reporter, "I'm a natural [actor]. I have a talent to take words off paper and relate to it." After this experience, Usher wanted to move into film acting. Knowing that horror movies were popular among teens of all races, he chose to make his debut in The Faculty, in which he played a high-school football player possessed by aliens. Director Robert Rodriguez told a People reporter that for an amateur, Usher did an excellent job. "He was already way above and beyond a lot of people I have worked with who were coming in for the first time." The film was a success, and it attracted the attention of clothing designer Tommy Hilfiger, who featured members of the cast wearing his designs in his advertising. Usher was prominent in the ads, and he also argued with Hilfiger over the use of his image and his payment for it. He eventually sued Hilfiger for $1 million, claiming the company had used his image far more than he had originally agreed to, but had not paid him appropriately.

In 1998, Usher was nominated for a Grammy award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance, and he won the award for Best R&B/Soul Single at the Soul Train Music Awards. He also appeared on the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful. In 1999, Usher appeared in the teen comedy film She's All That and the action movie Light It Up, which starred Vanessa L. Williams and Forest Whitaker. He also signed for two more films, Disney's telepic Geppetto and Texas Rangers. He told a People interviewer, "I've found a new love. My acting is making me want to leave my singing."

However, critics did not love his acting as much as Usher did. In the Seattle Times, journalist Christy Lemire commented, " Texas Rangers should have been put out to straight-to-video pasture," and noted that the film's shallow characterization was at fault. In the Arizona Daily Star, Phil Villarreal noted, "Usher? Stick to the singing. He lacks the smooth, controlled presence of an action star." Although the movie received these reviews, Miramax planned to release more films with Usher. Usher told Jenel Smith and Marilyn Beck in the Los Angeles Daily News, "If there was a class over at Miramax, I guess I would be the [teacher's pet]." He added that in order to play his role in Texas Rangers, he had to learn to handle both guns and horses. "I just had to go for it, and I did. I got to know my horse real well. He became my best friend."

In 2004, Usher's album Confessions started out at No. 1 on the Billboard charts, selling 1.1 million copies in its first week, surpassing every other debut album in the preceding two years, and eventually spending nine weeks on top of the list. The singles "Yeah," "Burn," and "Confessions, Part 2" were especially popular, riding at the number-one spot in succession, making Usher the artist with the most weeks at No. 1 in a calendar year. Confessions became the year's best-selling album. Usher rereleased it with four new tracks, including a duet with Alicia Keys that became a hit. Usher noted that with this album, he wanted to get back to his roots in R&B, citing singer Marvin Gaye as an inspiration. "I really fell in love with his style of music and just realized how honest he was able to be through his music," he explained to Megan Leach of the Canadian National Post. He said of his own album, "When you go back and read through the lyrics it means something, it says something. That's what being a great R&B artist is to me. Thinking outside the box, and yet still making yourself available to a hip-hip nation." Usher explained to Ebony reporter Kevin Chappell, "I try to have that urban edge, but still put out real music. I listen to what the streets are saying."

In 2004, Usher performed at the MTV Video Music Awards, and he also signed with MTV Films to star in and be the executive producer of a big-screen film. Van Toffler, president of MTV, MTV2, and MTV Films told a Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service reporter, "Usher's incredible music and acting talents combined with MTV Films' sensibility marks a perfect marriage for a feature." The film would use a soundtrack by Usher, effectively becoming a long advertisement for that album.

Usher further commercialized himself by launching the first-ever celebrity debit card, backed by Bankfirst. The card, featuring the word "success" and a photo of Usher wearing a diamond earring, was a "pre-paid" card that cost $19.95 to acquire. It gave users discounts on Usher merchandise, and was targeted to his young fans, many of whom either did not qualify for a credit card or did not have a checking account. "This is about empowering my fans," Usher told Phyllis Furman in the Daily News, but Furman observed it was also about making a lot of money.

In that same year, Usher was featured prominently in the gossip pages with the breakup of his two-year relationship with Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas, who performed with the R&B group TLC. He initially told Chappell in Ebony simply that they grew apart: "She wanted things and was moving in a direction, and I wanted things and was moving in a different direction, and we were unable to both compromise and meet each other halfway." However, when his mother and brother left the room, he admitted that he had cheated on Thomas. As a result, he said, there was little chance that they would ever get back together; they had not spoken since the breakup.

In August of 2004, Usher began a 28-city tour, traveling in a 45-foot bus outfitted with a television, DVD player, CD player, and a laptop computer, as well as five beds and a shower. Of his musical and financial success, he told a People reporter on the second day of the tour, "I don't believe in good luck, I believe in blessings." Whatever the source, it seems clear that his singing ability and financial savvy will continue to carry him to new heights in the music world.

Selected discography

(Contributor) LaFace Family Christmas, LaFace, 1993.

(Contributor) Poetic Justice (soundtrack), Sony, 1993.

Usher, LaFace, 1994.

(Contributor) Miss Thang, Rowdy, 1995.

(Contributor) Panther (soundtrack), Mercury, 1995.

(Contributor) Kazaam (soundtrack), A&M, 1995.

My Way, LaFace, 1997.

(Contributor) Soul Food (soundtrack), LaFace, 1997.

Live, LaFace, 1999.

8701, Arista, 2001.

Confessions, Arista, 2004.

Sources

Books

Contemporary Black Biography, vol. 23, Gale Group, 1999.

Contemporary Musicians, vol. 23, Gale Group, 1999.

Periodicals

Arizona Daily Star, December 2, 2001, p. E1.

Billboard, April 17, 2004, p. 72; June 26, 2004, p. 8; July 24, 2004, p. 69.

Daily News (Los Angeles, CA), October 6, 1999, p. L2; December 31, 1999, p. L21; July 30, 2004.

Ebony, June 2004, p. 170.

Entertainment Weekly, April 16, 2004, pp. 46-48.

Interview, May 1998, p. 102.

Jet, March 9, 1998.

Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, July 31, 2004, p. K1614.

People, January 11, 1999, p. 83; April 19, 2004, pp. 67-68; August 23, 2004, p. 126.

Rolling Stone, December 25, 1997.

Seattle Times, December 4, 2001, p. E4.

Online

"Biography," Usher World, http://www.usherworld.com/about-biography.php (October 6, 2004).

"Usher brings his Confessions to Canada for one night with Truth Tour," National Post, http://www.canada.com/national/nationalpost/news/artslife/story.html (October 6, 2004).

—Kelly Winters



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