Usher (b. 1978)
Usher Raymond was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on October 14, 1978. He honed his vocal skills as a member of the St. Elmo's Missionary Baptist Church choir. After moving to Atlanta with his mother, Jonnetta Patton, in 1990 to pursue a record deal, Usher began performing in amateur singing competitions. In 1991 his performance at a talent show caught the attention of Antonio "L.A." Reid of LaFace Records. Reid invited Usher to an audition and signed the fourteen-year-old to a recording contract.
In 1994 Usher released Usher, an album coproduced by Reid and New York rap magnate Sean "P. Diddy" Combs. The album's first single, "Think of You," spearheaded the disc into gold status and established Usher as an up-and-coming R&B star. Between 1994 and 1997 Usher worked on several solo and collaborative projects, recording a jingle for Coca-Cola, forming R&B vocal group Black Men United to produce the single "You Will Know," and generally building fan support for his next album. In 1997 Usher released My Way under the guidance of Reid and well-known producers Jermaine Dupri and Babyface. A popular crossover effort driven by the songs "You Make Me Wanna" and "Nice and Slow," My Way reached multiplatinum sales.
My Way offered Usher new opportunities to extend his status as a popular celebrity. In 1998 Usher briefly stopped recording to appear in several feature films, most notably Light It Up (1999), in which he plays the lead. During that time he also appeared on the covers of numerous music and popular-culture magazines. Usher released a collection of live recordings entitled Live in 1999 before returning to the studio to record All About U.
Another platinum release, All About U (2000) received mixed reviews from critics who questioned Usher's longevity as an R&B artist. The success of his 2001 follow-up, 8701, however, quieted that criticism. Signed with Arista Records, Usher sold more than 8 million copies of 8701, which includes the party song "U Remind Me" and the soulful "U Got it Bad." In the following year Usher won a variety of awards for 8701, including two Grammy Awards and three Billboard Music Awards. In 2004 Usher again rose to the top of the charts with Confessions, a record defined by the tracks "Yeah!" "Confessions," and "Burn." Confessions earned multiplatinum sales and won eleven Billboard Music Awards in late 2004.
Usher also continues to pursue an acting career. In addition to making numerous guest appearances on television shows, he starred in the ensemble cast of Texas Rangers (2001) and as the lead in In the Mix (2005). In August 2006 he began a six-week stint in the Broadway musical Chicago, playing the part of Billy Flynn.
In May 2008 Usher released his seventh album, Here I Stand, which sold nearly 450,000 copies to become the number one album in the week of its debut.
Usher lives in Atlanta in the former home of L.A. Reid. He and his wife, Tameka Foster, have one son, also named Usher.
Darren Grem, University of Georgia
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