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Usher

Usher

Singer

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 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 Vanessa, who would later assume the role of Usher's manager. After relocating to Atlanta, Georgia with Usher and his younger brother James, Vanessa Raymond 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, Vanessa Raymond 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).

For the Record …

Born Usher Raymond IV on October 14, 1978, in Chatanooga, TN; son of Vanessa (a choir director and later Usher's manager) and Usher Raymond III; one brother, James.

Released debut album Usher with producer Sean "Puffy" Combs, 1994; "Dreamin'," for LaFace Records' Olympics album Rhythm of the Games, 1996; released multi-platinum sophomore album My Way, 1997; began acting career as member of series Moesha, 1997; kicked off world tour with "Puffy" Combs on his No Way Out lineup; appeared in film The Faculty, 1998; issued Live album, 1999; issued All About U album, 2000; signed with Arista label; issued 8701 album, 2001; issued Confessions album, 2004.

Awards: First place on the Star Search television talent series, 1992; Soul Train Music Awards, Best Performance by an R&B Artist, Male, 1997; Best R&B/Soul Single, 1998; Best Male R&B/Soul Album for 8701, 2002; Grammy Award, Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for "U Remind Me," 2002; Nickelodeon Kid's Choice Award, Favorite Male Singer, 2002; BET Awards, Best Male R&B Artist, 2002; Male Artist of the Year, Viewer's Choice Award, 2004; Billboard Hip-Hop/R&B Awards, Top Artist, Top Male Artist, Top Singles Artist, 2002; six Teen Choice Awards, 2002-04; Grammy Award, Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for "U Don't Have to Call," 2003; MTV Video Music Awards, Best Male Video, Best Dance Video, 2004; World Music Awards, Best Male Artist, Best R&B Artist, Best Pop Artist, 2004.

Addresses: Record company—Arista Records, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10010. Website—Usher Official Website: http://www.usherworld.com.

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.

Selected discography

Usher, LaFace, 1994.

My Way, LaFace, 1997.

Live, LaFace, 1999.

All About U, LaFace, 2000.

8701, Arista, 2001.

Confessions, Arista, 2004.

Sources

Periodicals

Ebony, January 1998.

Entertainment Weekly, April 3, 1998.

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.

Online

"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).

—Sean Frentner andJames M. Manheim

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Usher

Usher

Singer, actor

For the Record

Just the Beginning

Turned to Songwriting

Singer/Actor

Selected discography

Sources

If the critical reception of Ushers 1994 self-titled debut album wasnt embraced universally by critics, the enormous commercial success of Usher gives the record claims to 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 Ushers 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, My Way. Boasting several strong singles, including the chart-topping You Make Me Wanna and Nice & Slow, My Way ensured Usher platinum-selling certification along with his high school diploma. Setting his sights upon a generous scope 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. This is just the beginning, Usher assessed in an online interview. I feel like Ive accomplished so much already, but I still have my whole life ahead of me and much more to do.

For the Record

Born Usher Raymond IV, October 14, 1979, in Chatanooga, TN; parents Vanessa (a choir director and later Ushers manager) and Usher Raymond III; one brother, James.

Released debut album Usher with producer Sean Puffy Combs, 1994; Dreamir, for LaFace Records Olympics album Rhythm of the Games, 1996; released multi-platinum sophomore album My Way, 1997; began acting career as member of series Moesha, 1997; kicked off world tour with Puffy Combs on his No Way Out lineup.

Awards: First place on the Star Search television talent series, 1992; Soul Train Music Award, best performance by an R&B artist, male, 1997, multi-platinum status for My Way, 1997.

Addresses: Fan ClubP.O. Box 500338, Atlanta, GA 31150-998.

Just the Beginning

Usher was born Usher Raymond IV, on October 14, 1979, in the small town of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Although left without a father, Usher never lacked the positive influence of a nurturing, supportive extended family of cousins and uncles, in addition to the powerful devotion of his mother Vanessa, who would later assume the role of Ushers manager. After relocating to Atlanta, Georgia with Usher and his younger brother James, Vanessa Raymond 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 wasnt really serious about it. But when I heard that song, I was inspired.

Conscious of her sons budding talents, Vanessa Raymond sought to give Usher a high profile by entering him in a number of talent competitions. Within ayear, 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 Ushers studio sessions was released under the straightforward title Usher, to little critical fanfare. Still, while Ushers 14 tracks ultimately proved to be at best a training ground for the singers emerging style, the album produced a gold-selling single, Think of You, which curried 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 Ushers already evident following of younger audiences, the Coca Cola company chose his voice to deliver their 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 Jasons Lyric. To round out this busy schedule, which at that time still included school-work, 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 Ive grown a lot since my last album, and writing was a part of that process, Usher later told MTV News in the fall of 1997.

Turned to Songwriting

The first of Ushers efforts at tunesmithery could not have been any more encouraging. Co-written with Jermaine Dupri, an affiliate of the So So Def label, Ushers 1997 single You Make Me Wanna rocketed up the Billboard magazine sales charts, peaking at the number one position, where it remained for eleven consecutive weeks. In the wake of such massive popularity, the release of Ushers 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 industrys most lucrative producers, including L.A. Reid and Babyface, Ushers second album was a more diverse affair than his debut outing. I wanted enough of everything so theres always a song you want to hear, Usher posited. Out of My Ways nine tracks, six were penned by Usher along with Dupri, with whom Usher developed a lucid 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 Ushers 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 Baby-face (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, Ushers relationship with some critical quarters did not improve. The Rolling Stone review for My Way was mixed at best. While Rolling Stone could not deny the infectiousness of You Make Me Wanna, the albums opener, they found little else to recommend the album, writing that Ushers voice lacks the force and nuance to make up for the thin, synthetic quality of the backing tracks. And you know theres 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 Ways second platinum-selling single.

Singer/Actor

As the stature of Ushers profile increased, so did the demand for his multiple talents. Proving again that he was more than simply a studio session 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 confided 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. Its like, Damn! I think Im a superstar. Such bravado made Usher a perfect candidate to round out the bill on cohort Sean Puffy Combs own fall tour, as well as for later live dates supporting full-fledged stars Mary J. Blige and Janet Jackson. Nor did Ushers confidence stop at performing music, as his debut as an actor on the television series Moesha bore witness. 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, Im a natural. I have a talent to take words off paper and relate to it.

At the turn of 1998, Ushers career seemed to be on an unstoppable upward trajectory, and not solely on the basis of consistently solid record sales. Finally given strong acknowledgment from critics, Usher was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance, and walked away with a statuette in the same category at the Soul Train Awards a month later. In addition, Ushers 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 science fiction film. Pegged by Essence magazine to be one of a new hot generation of stars marked by youth and unshakable positiveness, Usher continues to sharpen his skills and widen his sights. I guess I am an usher in a way, he quipped to Jet magazine. Im ushering in something very new, very fresh. Hopefully, itll have longevity. Thats my goal. I dont want to be stereotyped as just a hip hop artist or an R&B artist. I want to cover it all.

Selected discography

Usher, LaFace, 1994.

My Way, LaFace, 1997.

Sources

Periodicals

Ebony, January 1998.

Entertainment Weekly, April 3, 1998.

Jet, March 9, 1998.

Rolling Stone, December 25, 1997.

Time, February 23, 1998.

Online

www.aristarec.com/aristaweb/Usher/info.html

http://www.mtv.eom/news/gallery/u/usher

http://www.spods.dcs.kcl.ac.uk/~richii/usher.html

Sean Frentner

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Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

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Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Usher

Usher

1978–

Rhythm and blues singer, actor

With his natural good looks and personal presence that set him apart from the pack, Usher has risen from genuine teen idol to mature pop star. Usher has to travel with bodyguards to hold back the throngs of screaming adolescent females. "I actually have been hurt," he told Interview magazine writer Dimitri Ehrlich. "I twisted my ankle—well, they twisted my ankle—in Amsterdam." Usher's musical talents were obvious, and the industry rewarded him with a 1998 Grammy award nomination for Best Male R&B vocal performance. At the century's end, Usher built on his teenage success, thanks to what People described as his "sculpted pecs, six-pack abs, and come-hither croon," to launch a successful acting career and media empire that will fuel his meteoric rise in the entertainment industry.

Inspired to Sing at Young Age

Usher was born Usher Raymond IV on October 14, 1978, in Dallas, Texas, but grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His father, despite the long continuity of male family lineage implied by the fourth generation of the "Usher" name, abandoned his family. But Usher benefited from constant support and encouragement from his mother, Jonnetta Patton. "She showed me the difference between good and evil," Usher told Interview. "My dad never did. He split when I was born," he continued.

The members of Usher's extended family, which included grandmothers and aunts, were fans of R&B music, and he soaked up various vocal sounds when he was young. Ironically, it was a song recorded eight years before he was born, the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back," that first caught the youngster's attention and made him think about singing himself. Usher's mother spotted her son's talents and honed them by getting him to join her church choir, a critical step for many vocalists in the R&B tradition. Then she nurtured his competitive instincts by entering him in talent contests, and Usher justified his mother's confidence by winning many of them.

The family moved to Atlanta because of the city's importance as a spawning ground for new R&B talent during the 1990s. Usher continued to enter competitions, and, around 1991, took home his biggest prize yet: he was named best teen male vocalist on the nationally broadcast television program, Star Search. The win propelled Usher, barely of high school age, to a contract with the LaFace music label in 1992.

Groomed for Stardom

Usher's signing fell during the rise to prominence of Sean "Puffy" Combs, the famed hip-hop impresario and producer who played a key role in the successful marketing of the "gangsta" rap style and later emerged as a multi-platinum-selling artist in his own right. Usher spent a year under Combs's tutelage, and the relationship between the two young men was not always a harmonious one. "That whole bad-boy thing, me frowning for the camera-that wasn't me," Usher told People. Sales of Usher, the self-titled Combs-produced 1994 debut CD, though modest, did yield one gold-selling hit single, "Think of You," and Usher was on his way.

Taking steps to forge a new and friendlier image on his own, Usher began to work with hot R&B producer Jermaine Dupri. Part of Usher's effort to take control of his career was a new emphasis on writing his own songs, and Dupri had the sense to partner with his young new charge in this enterprise. Usher's refashioning of his career began to pay big dividends with his sophomore CD, 1997's My Way; led by the Usher-Dupri composition "You Make Me Wanna," a smooth ballad that brought to life the beginnings of a love triangle, My Way achieved sales of over five million copies and vastly broadened Usher's appeal beyond the R&B field. Another Number One single from My Way was "Nice & Slow." Asked about the album by Time magazine, Usher demonstrated awareness of the resonances of its title: "I know who Frank Sinatra is, daddy," he answered, showing the charismatic confidence he often exuded in interviews.

The album effectively mixed R&B and hip-hop stylings, and Usher proved that he had the vocal chops to go with his good looks when he wowed an audience at Harlem's prestigious Apollo Theater during the tour he undertook to promote it. Thanks to the success of My Way, Billboard named Usher its 1998 Artist of the Year. On top of the music world, Usher took the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of his success, repaying his mother's long years of investment in his career (she remains his manager) with a new Mercedes 420 automobile and a Cartier watch. But he was already planning the next stage of his career.

Forged Film Career

Usher had already made his acting debut with a stint of several episodes on the television series Moesha and Promised Land. For his first film project, he would choose a different kind of teen setting. Usher astutely zeroed in on the horror genre, largely an untapped field for black performers but tremendously popular among young people of all races. In late 1998 he made his debut in The Faculty, playing a high school football star possessed by aliens.

The film was a hit, and it attracted interest from the hip clothing designer Tommy Hilfiger, who featured images of its youthful cast in his advertising that year. It was a measure of Usher's appeal that he was played prominently in these ads, and he wrangled with Hilfiger over the use of his image. Ultimately he filed suit against the company for $1 million with the claim that Hilfiger had gone far beyond the guidelines the cast had agreed to, without "paying the money appropriate for an endorsement deal." Clearly Usher was aware of his own potential for further marketability.

Usher's movie career entered an upward trajectory more quickly than did his musical one. Faculty director Robert Rodriguez praised Usher in a People interview, saying, "He was already way above and beyond a lot of people I have worked with who were coming in for the first time." In 1999 Usher also appeared as a student disc jockey in the film She's All That, Light It Up with Vanessa L. Williams and Forest Whitaker and two more films were set for release in the year 2000, Gepetto and Texas Rangers. "I've found a new love," he told People. "My acting is making me want to leave my singing."

At a Glance …

Born Usher Raymond IV in Dallas, Texas, on October 14, 1978; son of single mother Jonnetta Patton (a choir director, later his manager); one brother, James.

Career: LaFace Record Label, recording artist, 1993–; actor, 1997–; Us Record Label, co-founder, 2002–.

Selected awards: First place award on Star Search television talent search program, 1992; Soul Train Music Award, best performance by an R&B Artist, Male, 1997; multi-platinum status for My Way, 1997; Grammy awards, for Best Male R&B Performance, 2001 and 2002, for Rap/Sung Collaboration, for Contemporary R&B Album, and for R&B Performance for a Duo, all 2005; NAACP Image Award, 2005.

Addresses: Web—www.usherworld.com.

Musical Offerings Brought Unprecedented Fame

But while Usher developed as an actor, he continued to tour and music remained a huge part of his life. To appease fans, he released Live in 2000. The album documented Usher's development as a performer, featuring remixes of his early work and songs with guest artists such as Trey Lorenz, Shanice, Twista, and others. But it was not until 2001 that he came out with an album of new work. Writing for 8701 Usher created songs with stories. His stories touched fans and sent the album to multi-platinum success and fans kept "U Remind Me" and "U Got It Bad" at the top of both the pop and R&B charts for weeks. Usher won his first Grammy awards for these songs, and about a dozen other industry awards for his work on the album.

The success of 8701 made the 25-year-old Usher wonder about how he should develop his career. "With every album, I try to better myself," Usher noted on the UsherWorld Web site. "I'm a perfectionist and with the success of my last record, I wasn't sure about where my growth should be—as a performer, as a vocalist. I always felt like I held something back on my albums—on every album, I was playing a 'role.'" So for his next album, Confessions, Usher said: "I decided to shake my fears and allow my personality to come through."

His efforts created a record-breaking, chart-topping, award-winning album. Four songs from Confessions landed at number one on the Billboard 100, and Usher became the third artist, after the Beatles and the Bee Gees, with three songs in the top 10 at the same time. Confessions also won him three Grammy Awards and four American Music Awards in 2005. With sales of more than 25 million albums by 2005, his success has inspired comparisons with the youthful rise of Michael Jackson to the top of the charts and led the media to dub Usher the new King of Pop.

But Usher's phenomenal success in music had become only one segment of his vision for the future. He started his own record label, Us records, with his mother in 2002; began producing films; bought a stake in the Cleveland Cavaliers; and had begun preparations to start selling his own line of clothing, cosmetics, and fashion accessories. In addition to his business ventures, Usher started a summer music camp for talented youth and Usher's New Look, an organization focused on developing teen leadership. Usher related his vision for his future in an interview with Essence: "I hope to do something as a businessman that opens up more opportunities for people to believe in themselves, if I can do it, you may believe you can do it as well. Let me become the motivation for moving forward. Oprah Winfrey is a great motivator for Black people. How can I do the same thing?" Given his ambitions and recognized drive, many would guess that Usher certainly can.

Selected works

Albums

Usher, LaFace, 1994.
My Way, LaFace, 1997.
Live, LaFace, 2000.
8701, LaFace, 2001.
Confessions, LaFace, 2004.

Films

The Faculty, 1998.
Light It Up, 1999.
She's All That, 1999.
Gepetto, 2000.
Texas Rangers, 2001.
In the Mix, 2005.

Sources

Books

Contemporary Musicians, volume 23, Gale, 1999.

Larkin, Colin, ed., Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Muze UK, 1998.

Periodicals

Daily News Record, January 4, 1999, p. 6.

Ebony, January 1998, p. 46.

Entertainment Weekly, April 3, 1998, p. 96.

Essence, June 2005, p. 124.

Forbes, May 9, 2005, p. 18.

Interview, May 1998, p. 102.

Jet, December 14, 1998, p. 38.

Men's Health, May 2005, p. 160.

People, January 11, 1999, p. 83.

Time, February 23, 1998, p. 93.

On-line

UsherWorld, www.usherworld.com (March 22, 2006).

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Usher

USHER

Born: Usher Raymond; Chattanooga, Tennessee, 14 October 1978

Genre: R&B, Pop

Best-selling album since 1990: My Way (1997)

Hit songs since 1990: "You Make Me Wanna," "Nice and Slow," "U Remind Me"


During the 1990s teenage star Usher represented the good-time, ebullient side of rhythm and blues music, alternately fun-spirited and seductive. Unlike artists such as Maxwell and Erykah Badu, who aim their music at an older audience via a back-to-the-roots sound recalling 1970s R&B, Usher looks and sounds entirely contemporary, reveling in high-tech production and flashy stage effects. A limber, effortless dancer, Usher truly comes to life in live performance and videos, where his nimble dance moves and sexy but sweet personality can be witnessed in person. His high-voltage style of showmanship is so impressive that even a rather modest singing abilityhis nasal voice is frequently off-keyhas not hampered his rise to stardom.


Beginnings

Usher spent his early years in the mid-sized Tennessee city of Chattanooga, where he sang in his mother's church choir and entered local talent shows. His father left the family shortly after his birth. When Usher was twelve his mother, always confident in her son's abilities, moved her family to Atlanta, Georgia, a larger city with a substantial music scene. After winning a competition on the television talent program Star Search, Usher auditioned successfully for producer Antonio "L.A." Reid, then seeking artists for his burgeoning LaFace label, a joint venture with producer Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds. The singer's debut album, Usher, was released on LaFace in 1994 and features the midtempo dance hit, "Think of You." The song was bolstered with top-quality production by famed hip-hop artist Sean "Puffy" Combs, who gives Usher the kind of dense, grooving beat he supplied on contemporaneous work with singer Mary J. Blige. While strong, the material on Usher was perhaps not distinctive enough to bring the singer widespread fame, and Usher devoted the next several years to finishing high school and perfecting a sly, deeper vocal delivery. In interviews he began to exude more of his personality, smiling and answering questions with a sweet but rakish southern charm.


Stardom

Usher's second album, My Way (1997), established his stardom on the basis of the number one R&B hit, "You Make Me Wanna." The song, sporting a sinuous groove supplied by young producer Jermaine Dupri, capitalizes on the singer's new persona: sexy but vulnerable, seductive without being aggressive. Although Usher sings about desertionin the song he falls in love with his girlfriend's best friendhe cultivates sympathy in his listeners through his abiding sense of conscience. Older, more hardened hip-hop performers might move on to the new liaison with callous detachment, but Usher is beset with anxiety. "I love her but I'm falling for you," he sings with pinched sincerity, confessing that, "I never meant to hurt her but I gotta let her go." Even when hurting the woman who loves him, he emerges as sensitive and likable. Addressing Usher's sexually aware but tender image, rock critic Robert Christgau described him as "the sweetest non-virgin a mama could ask [for]." Usher's physical appearance only highlighted his teen idol appeal: Lithe and muscular, often appearing in videos stripped to the waist, he emerged as a love man for the 1990s, the natural successor to smooth-voiced soul singers of the 1970s such as Al Green and Teddy Pendergrass. If Usher's voice sounds less assured than those of his predecessors, he makes up for it with the precision and grace of his dancing. His concerts, in which he performs multiple handstands and back-flips, are showcases for his dazzling athleticism.

By the late 1990s Usher was showing signs of growing up, moving beyond his teenage fan base with forays into film and television acting. Discussing his versatility with the E! television network in 1998 he professed his desire to be "the ultimate entertainer." Ironically, while contemporaries such as Maxwell display a greater historical awareness of the musical aspect of R&B, Usher perhaps better reflects the true spirit of the idiom. Recalling the fleet-footed technique and show-stopping antics of 1950s singers such as Jackie Wilson, as well as 1980s superstar Michael Jackson, Usher reinforces R&B's original standing as good-time party musicmusic to make people forget their troubles. While performers such as Badu infuse their work with socially conscious messages, Usher strives above all to entertain.

Although acting activities kept him away from the recording studio during the late 1990s, he returned with another hit album, 8701, in 2001. Benefiting from an infectious synthesizer riff and thumping bass line, the single "U Remind Me" became his most successful outing to date, reaching the number one slot on the pop and R&B charts. One of the album's most enjoyable tracks is "U-Turn," in which Usher, employing "how-to" lyrics, updates the kind of high-spirited dance records popular during the 1960s: "Put your hands up, bend your knees / Bounce around in a circle, get down with me." While some of its material is uneven, 8701 evinces signs of a new vocal maturity. Usher's voice continues to lack power, especially in his thin upper range, but he has learned to harness it more effectively. At the end of "U Remind Me," for example, he adds variety by playing with his phrasing and timing instead of stretching for high notes. On the album's ballads Usher draws upon his familiar theme of sex combined with healthy doses of romance, promising his lover to "work it" from "11 to 6 in the morning," while offering enticements such as "a bed of rose petals."

Drawing upon old-fashioned show-biz pizzazz, Usher entertains fans through flamboyant displays of physical agility. As an artist he takes the basic qualities inherent within R&B for decadesdanceable rhythm, catchy melody, convivial feelingand updates them with his naughty but nice personal style. Beyond his charisma and effervescent music, Usher's appeal lies in a persona that tempers sensuality with sweetness and charm.

SELECTIVE DISCOGRAPHY:

Usher (LaFace, 1994); My Way (LaFace, 1997); Live (LaFace, 1999); 8701 (Arista, 2001).

WEBSITE:

www.usherworld.com.

david freeland

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usher

ush·er / ˈəshər/ • n. a person who shows people to their seats, esp. in a theater or at a wedding. ∎  an official in a court whose duties include swearing in jurors and witnesses and keeping order. ∎ Brit. a person employed to walk before a person of high rank on special occasions. • v. [tr.] show or guide (someone) somewhere: a waiter ushered me to a table. ∎ fig. cause or mark the start of (something new): the railroads ushered in an era of cheap mass travel.

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usher

usher officer having charge of the door of a hall, etc. XIV; officer whose ceremonial duty it is to precede a person of rank XVI; (fig.) precursor; assistant master in a school. — AN. usser = OF. u(i)ssier, (mod. huissier):- medL. ūstiārius, for L. ōstiārius door-keeper, f. ōstium door, f. ōs mouth; see -ER2.
Hence vb. XVI.

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Usher 1978(?)–

Usher 1978(?)

R&B vocalist

At a Glance

Selected discography

Sources

One of the many teenage vocalists who flourished in the 1990s, Usher had natural good looks and personal presence that set him apart from the pack. A genuine teen idol, Usher travels with bodyguards. I actually have been hurt, he told Interview magazine writer Dimitri Ehrlich. I twisted my anklewell, they twisted my anklein Amsterdam. Ushers musical talents were obvious, and became recognized with a 1998 Grammy award nomination for Best Male R&B vocal performance. At the centurys end, Usher was attempting to add to his stature with a well-planned launch of a new acting career, and he seemed likely, thanks to what People described as his sculpted pecs, six-pack abs, and come-hither croon, to enjoy a greater longevity than other teenage stars.

Usher was born Usher Raymond IV on October 14, 1978 (some sources give the year as 1979), in Dallas, Texas, but grew up (from age one) in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His father, despite the long continuity of male family lineage implied by the fourth generation of the Usher name, abandoned his family. But Usher benefited from constant support and encouragement from his mother, Jonnetta Patton. She showed me the difference between good and evil, Usher told Interview. My dad never did. He split when I was born.

The members of Ushers extended family, which included grandmothers and aunts as well as his mother, were fans of R&B radio, and he soaked up various vocal sounds when he was young. Ironically, it was a song recorded eight years before he was born, the Jackson 5s I Want You Back (with Michael Jacksons ebullient vocals), that first caught the youngsters attention and made him think about singing himself. Ushers mother spotted her sons talents and honed them by getting him to join her church choir, a critical step for many vocalists in the R&B tradition. Then she nurtured his competitive instincts by entering him in talent contests, and Usher justified his mothers confidence by winning many of them.

The family moved to Atlanta because of the citys importance as a spawning ground for new R&B talent during the 1990s. Usher continued to enter competitions, and, around 1991, took home his biggest prize yet: he was named best teen male vocalist on the nationally broadcast television program, Star Search.

At a Glance

Born Usher Raymond IV in Dallas, Texas, probably on October 14, 1978; raised by single mother Jonnetta Patton (a choir director, later his manager); one brother, James.

Career: Recording artist and actor. Released debut album Usher (produced by Sean Puffy Combs), 1994; released second album, My Way (including hit singles You Make Me Wanna and Nice & Slow on LaFace, 1997; began acting career with series of appearances on television program Moesha, 1997; made film debut in horror film The Faculty, 1999; appeared in film Shes All That, 1999; appeared in films Gepetto and Texas Rangers, 2000.

Awards: First place award on Star Searcft television talent search program, 1992; Soul Train Music Award, best performance by an R&B artist, male, 1997; multiplatium status for My Way, 1997; Grammy award nomination for Best Male R&B vocal performance, 1998.

Addresses: Fan ClubP.O. Box 500338, Atlanta, GA 31150.

The win propelled Usher, barely of high school age, to a contract with the LaFace music label in 1992.

Ushers signing fell during the rise to prominence of Sean Puffy Combs, the famed rap impresario and producer who played a key role in the successful marketing of the gangsta rap style and later emerged as a multiplatinum-selling artist in his own right. Usher spent a year under Combss tutelage, and the relationship between the two young men was not always a harmonious one. That whole bad-boy thing, me frowning for the camerathat wasnt me, Usher told People. Sales of Usher, the singers Combs-produced 1994 debut CD, were modest, but the album did yield one gold-selling hit single, Think of You, and Usher was on his way.

Taking steps to forge a new and friendlier image on his own, Usher began to work with the hot R&B producer Jermaine Dupri. Part of Ushers effort to take control of his career was a new emphasis on writing his own songs, and Dupri had the sense to partner with his young new charge in this enterprise. Ushers refashioning of his career began to pay big dividends with his sophomore CD, 1997s My Way ; led by the Usher-Dupri composition You Make Me Wanna, a smooth ballad that brought to life the beginnings of a love triangle, My Way achieved sales of over five million copies and vastly broadened Ushers appeal beyond the R&B field. Another Number One single from My Way was Nice & Slow. Asked about the album by Time magazine, Usher demonstrated awareness of the resonances of its title: I know who Frank Sinatra is, daddy, he answered, showing the charismatic confidence he often exudes in interviews.

The album effectively mixed R&B and hip-hop stylings, and Usher proved that he had vocal chops to go with his good looks when he wowed an audience at Harlems prestigious Apollo Theater (in New York City) during the tour he undertook to promote it. Thanks to the success of My M/ay, Billboard named Usher its 1998 Artist of the Year. On top of the music world, Usher took the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of his success, repaying his mothers long years of investment in his career (she remains his manager) with a new Mercedes 420 automobile and a Cartier watch. But he was already planning the next stage of his career.

Usher had already made his acting debut with a stint of several episodes on the television series Moesha; he appeared as a love interest of the title character, played by teen star Brandy Norwood. (Rumors linked the two romantically in real life as well, but Usher has remained single and has had several girlfriends.) For his first movie project, he would choose different kind of teen setting. Usher astutely zeroed in on the horror genre, largely an untapped field for black performers but a tremendous popular success among young people of all races. Early in 1999 he made his film debut in The Faculty, playing a high school football star possessed by aliens.

The film was a hit, and it attracted interest from the hip clothing designer Tommy Hilfiger, who featured images of its youthful cast in his advertising that year. It was a measure of Ushers appeal that he was played prominently in these ads, and he wrangled with Hilfiger over the use of his image. Ultimately he filed suit against the company for $1 million with the claim that Hilfiger had gone far beyond the guidelines the cast had agreed to, without paying the money appropriate for an endorsement deal. Clearly Usher was aware of his own potential for further marketability.

Ushers movie career entered an upward trajectory more quickly than did his musical one. Faculty director Robert Rodriguez praised Usher in a People interview, saying, He was already way above and beyond a lot of people I have worked with who were coming in for the first time. In 1999 Usher also appeared as a disc jockey in the film Shes All That, and two more films were set for release in the year 2000, Gepetto and Texas Rangers. Ive found a new love, he told People. My acting is making me want to leave my singing. A young man who had consistently made smart career decisions, Usher seemed likely to succeed further, whichever path he chose.

Selected discography

Usher, LaFace, 1994.

My Way, LaFace, 1997.

Sources

Books

Contemporary Musicians, volume 23, Gale, 1999.

Larkin, Colin, ed., The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Muze UK, 1998.

Periodicals

Daily News Record, January 4, 1999, p. 6.

Ebony, January 1998, p. 46.

Entertainment Weekly, April 3, 1998, p. 96.

Interview, May 1998, p. 102.

Jet, December 14, 1998, p. 38.

People, January 11, 1999, p. 83.

Time, February 23, 1998, p. 93.

James M. Manheim

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usher

usherjosher, washer •moksha • tonsure • dishwasher •whitewasher • Portia • launcher •brochure, kosher, Scotia •fuchsia • pusher • penpusher •blusher, crusher, flusher, gusher, Prussia, rusher, Russia, usher •cruncher, luncher, puncher •cowpuncher • Udmurtia •inertia, Persia

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Usher

Usher

Education and Training: On-the-job training

Salary: Median—$7.35 per hour

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Ushers work in theaters, stadiums, symphony halls, and other places where people gather to watch a performance or sporting event. Patrons hand their tickets to ushers, who lead or direct them to their seats. They tell patrons where to find telephones, restrooms, and the refreshment stand.

Ushers must learn how the seats in a given venue are numbered or alphabetized. In some cases there are no reserved seats and ushers merely help people find seats. In darkened theaters ushers frequently use flashlights to guide them. They also pass out programs, answer questions about performance times, and remind patrons to turn off cell phones and beepers during the event. Ushers make sure that fire exits are clear and unlocked. In the case of an emergency they help the people leave the theater in a safe, calm, and orderly manner.

Ushers have additional responsibilities that fall in the realm of customer service. For instance, they often help patrons search for lost items, keep unruly people under control, and ask people who are sitting in the wrong seats to move. When disorderly people do not heed the warnings of an usher, a head usher or security guard may be called in. In small theaters ushers often have to perform the duties of ticket takers. Ticket takers are responsible for seeing that only people who have paid the admission charge enter the theater.

Ushers have very little to do during the performance, so they usually get to watch the event free of charge. During theater intermissions or halftime at sporting events, they direct people to refreshment stands and restrooms. When the performance or event ends, ushers make sure that people leave the theater safely.

Education and Training Requirements

Ushers are trained on the job, but most employers prefer applicants who have a high school education. Ushers should be neat, courteous, and able to get along with all types of people. They may have to be firm and persuasive to quiet unruly guests or move people to their proper seats.

Getting the Job

Prospective ushers should apply directly to sports arenas, movie theaters, auditoriums, and theaters that present live drama. Job openings for ushers may be listed in newspaper want ads, on Internet job banks, and at state employment services. Where ushers are unionized, candidates should apply directly to the local union office.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Ushers may advance to head usher or security guard. Ushers who work for motion picture theaters may train as projectionists.

The employment outlook for ushers is good and job openings are expected to grow as fast as the average through the year 2014. Personal leisure time is increasing, and Americans are willing to spend their money on recreation. The largest number of job openings will occur to replace workers who retire or leave for other reasons.

Working Conditions

Ushers have to be on their feet for long periods of time. They usually work indoors in pleasant surroundings. Ushers who work outside at sports arenas and stadiums must be prepared to work in all kinds of weather. Because they deal with the public, ushers must be tactful, courteous, and patient. Theater ushers must know how to handle different audiences ranging from excited children at a Saturday matinee to mature, sophisticated theatergoers.

Many ushers wear uniforms. Employers may provide uniforms or a uniform allowance. Some ushers belong to labor unions. Ushers' schedules vary widely: some work fewer than twenty hours per week while others put in as many as fifty hours per week. They often work evenings, weekends, and some holidays.

Where to Go for More Information

International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories, and Canada
1430 Broadway, 20th Fl.
New York, NY 10018
(212) 730-1770
http://www.iatse-intl.org/

Service Employees International Union
1313 L St. NW
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 898-3200
http://www.seiu.org/

Earnings and Benefits

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ushers earn a median hourly salary of $7.35. Those who belong to unions receive higher pay than nonunionized workers. Occasionally ushers receive tips from patrons.

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Usher

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; 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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