Usher Biography

Usher Raymond IV, 14 October 1978, Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA. Originally drawn from LaFace Records’ seemingly inexhaustible wellspring of young R&B acts in the mid-90s, Usher is one of the few who can boast of real star quality and staying power. Indeed, after the release of his self-titled debut in 1994, there seemed to be a danger that he would become better known as a face rather than a musical talent. He appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and also performed at the American Music Awards as part of the all-star recording collaboration Black Men United. However, sales of his Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs -produced debut were a little disappointing at just over a quarter of a million, though it did spawn the minor hit singles ‘Can U Get Wit It’, ‘Think Of You’, and ‘The Many Ways’. As a consequence, Usher took creative control over the production of the US Top 10 follow-up My Way (1997), although he did enlist Jermaine Dupri, Teddy Riley and Babyface as co-writers and co-producers. The first single to be taken from the album, ‘You Make Me Wanna’, was typical of the smooth ballads on offer, and reached number 2 in the US singles chart. More unusual was the experimental, hip-hop-styled ‘Nice & Slow’, a US chart-topper in March 1998. The album also included a remake of Midnight Star’s ‘Slow Jam’, featuring fellow teenage R&B star Monica. The title track climbed to US number 2 in August 1998.

A live album was issued as a stopgap while the singer recorded new material and initiated a successful acting career, appearing in the television series Moesha and the movies The Faculty and She’s All That. His 2000 comeback single ‘Pop Ya Collar’, co-written with husband-and-wife team Kevin She’kspere Briggs and Kandi, was a surprising failure in America. Usher was more successful in the UK, where the single debuted at number 2 in February 2001. He returned to the top of the US charts in July with ‘U Remind Me’, which also won the Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and premiered the transatlantic hit album 8701. The single ‘U Got It Bad’ also reached the US number 1 position in 2002, and helped complete Usher’s transition from teen pop star to R&B bestseller. He picked up his second Grammy when ‘U Don’t Have To Call’ won the Best Male R&B Vocal Performance award in 2003.

Usher cemented his status as one of the most prominent faces in American music when his new single, ‘Yeah!’, climbed up the US charts to reach the top slot in February 2004 (staying at the top for several weeks). The track repeated the feat on the UK chart, by which time the follow-up single ‘Burn’ had also broken into the US Top 5. The latter track completed its climb to the top in May. A third single, ‘Confessions Part II’, continued a remarkable year for the singer when it topped the US charts in July. A fourth chart-topper followed in October with the Alicia Keys duet, ‘My Boo’. The attendant Confessions became the singer’s first US chart-topping album and went on to achieve nine times platinum sales status. He won three awards at the 2005 Grammys, picking up trophies for Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals (‘My Boo’), Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (‘Yeah!’) and Best Contemporary R&B Album (Confessions). He also enjoyed another major US hit in collaboration with Lil Jon and Ludacris on the single ‘Lovers And Friends’.

Usher made his lead debut in a film later in 2005 in the poorly received crime comedy In The Mix. He enjoyed a more positive critical and commercial response with his Broadway debut as Billy Flynn in Chicago, taking over the role in August 2006. After featuring on hit albums by Jay-Z, R. Kelly and Mary J. Blige, he returned to the top of the US charts in March 2008 with his new single ‘Love In This Club’ (featuring Young Jeezy).

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.