Exploring the Life and Legacy of Usher

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“‘Cause baby, tonight, the DJ got us falling in love again…”

You’ve probably danced to this song back when you were younger, and you know who sang this because he says his name in the song. Usher, born Usher Raymond IV, is a multi-awarded pop artist referred to as the “King of R&B.”

While he is most known for his groovy pop songs and sultry hits, he is talented in many other areas: he’s a great singer and an amazing dancer, songwriter, and actor. Apart from entertainment, he’s also a philanthropist, activist, and businessman. It seems that whatever Usher sets his mind to, he excels in.

Get to know Usher’s life and legacy as you read on:

Early Life and Background

Usher Raymond IV was born on October 14, 1978, in Dallas, Texas, to parents Usher Raymond III and Jonetta Patton from Tennessee. He grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, as his father left the family when he was only one year old. Raised by his mother and stepfather, his musical journey began when he joined a local church choir at age nine. It was during that time that his grandmother recognized his singing talent. However, it wasn’t until Usher joined a singing group that she saw his potential for a professional singing career.

His mother believed that Usher would have more opportunities in a larger city, so they relocated to Atlanta, Georgia, when he was 12. While in Atlanta, he attended North Springs High School.

Career Beginnings

When Usher was 12, he met AJ Alexander at a local talent show in Atlanta. Alexander, who was Bobby Brown’s bodyguard at the time, took Usher under his wing and organized his performances in talent shows and parking lots. Alexander invited Bryan Reid, an A&R representative from LaFace Records, and was impressed by Usher’s performance on the TV talent show Star Search. 

At age 14, Usher secured a recording contract with LaFace Records. In 1994, LaFace released Usher’s self-titled debut album, produced by Sean “P Diddy” Combs. Although his debut album didn’t succeed commercially, it set the stage for his evolution beyond his choirboy roots, notably with the sultry single “Can U Get wit It.” However, the album faced criticism due to Usher’s young age and the explicit content. Usher’s mother took charge of his career, boosting his exposure through talent shows in the summer of 1995.

Rise to Stardom

Undeterred, Usher worked on his follow-up, My Way (1997), which solidified his status as a rising R&B star. His album sold over 8 million copies worldwide, making it his breakthrough album. “My Way” was certified six times platinum in the US and spawned successful singles. The lead single, “You Make Me Wanna…” became Usher’s first record to top the charts, reaching number one in the UK, while the second single, “Nice & Slow” also hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1998, making it his first number one single in the US. 

He also embarked on his first concert album in 1999, where he showcased his impressive dancing skills in addition to his smooth singing voice.

Subsequent Albums 

After his debut album, Usher (1994), and his breakout album, My Way (1997), the subsequent albums that Usher released included notable singles. 

1. 8701(2001)

Usher’s third studio album, initially titled All About U, underwent changes and was rebranded as 8701. Released on August 7, 2001 (8.7.01), the album reached four-time platinum status in the United States.

The album featured hit singles such as:

“U Remind Me” – topped the Billboard Hot 100 

“U Got It Bad” – topped the Billboard Hot 100

Usher even won a Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for “U Remind Me” in 2002, and then secured the same award the following year for “U Don’t Have to Call.” This made Usher the only artist besides Luther Vandross and Stevie Wonder to win this award consecutively.

2. Confessions (2004)

Usher experienced significant success with his fourth studio album, “Confessions,” released on March 23, 2004. It has sold over 15 million copies worldwide, with over 10 million in the United States, earning it a Diamond certification by the RIAA. This album became a history-maker for Usher, making him the first artist to top the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay with four consecutive number-one singles. 

Its successful singles include:

“Yeah!” – the album’s lead single that topped the charts at the Billboard Hot 100 and the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles Chart. With nearly 1.1 million unit debut sales, it set records as the highest first-week numbers ever for a male R&B artist and the seventh best in Nielsen SoundScan history. 

“Burn” – a single that reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100.

“Confessions Part II” – also reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100.

“My Boo” – a duet with Alicia Keys that became the album’s fourth number-one single.

“Caught Up” – the album’s final single- peaked at eight on the Hot 100. 

Usher collaborated with artists such as Lil Jon, R. Kelly, and Omarion during this era. 

3. Here I Stand (2008) 

Released in May 2008, Here I Stand was Usher’s fifth studio album, which debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 Chart with over 433,000 copies sold in the first week. While not reaching the same heights as his previous album, it received positive reviews for its lyrical maturity.

It spawned singles, such as:

“Love In This Club” – peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent three consecutive weeks at the top. It also reached number one on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and became one of the top songs on various international Billboard charts. 

“Love In This Club Part II,” – featuring Beyoncé and Lil Wayne, this single peaked at No. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 7 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.

In 2008, Usher co-founded the record label Raymond-Braun Media Group (RBMG) with talent manager Scooter Braun. It was the first label to sign Justin Beiber in 2008.

4. Raymond v. Raymond (2010)

Raymond v. Raymond, Usher’s sixth studio album, dropped in 2010, arriving just months after his divorce from Tameka Foster. The album debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart, making it his third consecutive chart-topping album. It achieved Gold certification within a month of release and later reached Platinum status. The international reception was equally impressive, with top-ten debuts in various countries. 

The leading singles from this album include:

“Papers” – a song about divorce, it became his tenth number-one single on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.

“Hey Daddy (Daddy’s Home)” – peaked at number 2 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.

“Lil Freak” – the album’s official second single in which he shot a music video with Nicki Minaj. It became his fourth Top 40 hit single from the album.

“OMG” – featuring will.i.am, this song reached number one on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. The song’s dance and club vibe became a hit worldwide. 

Building on this success, Usher announced a follow-up extended play (EP) called Versus and a deluxe edition of Raymond v. Raymond, both released on August 24, 2010. Versus explored themes of being newly single and a father. The EP debuted at number four on the Billboard 200 chart and featured singles like

“DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love” – debuted at number 19 on the Billboard Hot 100. This song was an international success.

“Hot Tottie” – the second single that reached number nine on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.

5. Looking 4 Myself(2012)

Usher embarked on a new musical journey, exploring what he called “revolutionary pop” for his seventh studio album, Looking 4 Myself. Released on June 8, 2012, the album received positive reviews for its fresh approach. With this album, Usher aimed to break free from the familiar and delve into uncharted musical territory, showcasing his artistic evolution. 

Its singles include “Climax,” which showcased his innovative sound and marked his presence on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart. It also included “Scream” and “Lemme See,” featuring Rick Ross. 

6. Hard II Love(2016)

Usher released his eighth album, Hard II Love, on September 16, 2016, receiving positive reviews. Critics said Hard II Love stretched the boundaries of R&B. Its single entitled “No Limit,” featuring Young Thug, reached number 1 on the Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop airplay chart. 

7. A(2018)

On October 12, 2018, he dropped a collaborative album titled A, featuring eight tracks with contributions from Future and Gunna. The entire album was produced by Zaytoven.

TV, Movie, and Other Appearances

In the late 90s, Usher expanded his reach through television appearances, including a recurring role on UPN’s Moesha series.

As he enjoyed the success of his album, 8701, Usher appeared in the film Texas Rangers (2001), and in the 2000s, he appeared in TV series such as The Twilight Zone7th HeavenMoesha, and American Dreams.

In 2013, Usher took a turn as a coach on the fourth season of NBC’s The Voice, filling in for CeeLo Green. While his protégé Michelle Chamuel fell short, Usher returned for the sixth season, guiding Josh Kaufman to victory.

Usher had recurring roles on various TV series and appeared in films such as Hands of Stone (2016), where he portrayed Sugar Ray Leonard and Burden (2018) based on a true story.

In 2019, he made a cameo appearance in the crime film “Hustlers,” released on September 13, and also contributed his single “Love in This Club” to the film’s soundtrack. That same year, he also returned to

NBC’s “The Voice” for season seventeen. Usher took on the role of a battle advisor for John Legend’s team.

Since 2021, Usher has been making waves with exciting ventures. He held a 12-show residency at the Colosseum at Caesars’ Palace in Las Vegas, starting on July 16, 2021, and running until January 1, 2022. Live Nation Las Vegas and Caesars Entertainment pledged to donate $1 from every ticket to Usher’s New Look Foundation. Later on, he shifted his residency from Caesars Palace to Park MGM, headlining 23 shows.

Usher is set to headline the 2024 Super Bowl Halftime Show in Las Vegas. Describing it as “an honor of a lifetime,” Usher expressed his excitement about checking off a big item from his bucket list.

Awards

According to Fuse, in 2014, Usher was the 10th most-awarded recording artist of all time. Usher has won multiple prestigious awards and accolades throughout his career, including eight Grammy Awards, eight American Music Awards, 18 Billboard Music Awards, 14 BMI Awards, nine Soul Train Music Awards, and 35 ASCAP Awards.

For his contributions to music, Usher received a Musical Arts Award at The BET Honors, a Golden Note Award at the ASCAP Awards, and inductions to the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Georgia Music Hall of Fame.

Besides his music-related awards, he also received accolades such as the President’s Volunteer Service Award and Freedom Award for his charitable works and an NBA Championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers, as he became a part owner of the team in 2005.

Legacy

During the 2000s, Usher was named the Billboard Hot 100 Artist of the decade, stating that Usher’s sexy R&B brand dominated the decade with top-selling albums and more number ones than any other act.

Confessions was his most successful album, selling 20 million copies worldwide, with the album being described by a New Yorker critic as something that “may turn out to have been the last true blockbuster in pop.”

Usher was also described as the best dancer in pop since Michael Jackson by VH1 and The Guardian writers. His dance singles “Yeah!,” “Caught Up,” and “OMG” was described to have influenced contemporary dance-pop, defining the 2000s.  In 2013, Usher was able to sell 2,684,000 copies of the single “Without You,” which was produced and released by French DJ David Guetta and written by English singer-songwriter Taio Cruz. Read our article, Learn About the Musical Career of Taio Cruz, to know more about the writer of the said song.

Different media outlets refer to him as the “King of R&B” and “Mr. Entertainment.” He has influenced many contemporary artists such as Drake, Chris Brown, Ne-Yo, Trey Songz, Jason Derulo, Bryson Tiller, Justin Beiber, Miguel, Jeremih, and Omarion, among many others. If you want to know more about Jason Derulo, you can check out our article, Explore the Musical Career of Jason Derulo.

Musical Influences

Michael Jackson in watercolor

Usher openly acknowledges his musical influences. Michael Jackson is a monumental figure who influenced Usher musically and as a humanitarian and philanthropist. Prince is another major influence, as Usher often infused Prince-like elements into his albums. In Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” issue, Usher praised Prince’s rawness and attitude.

Other influences include Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross, Janet Jackson, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, Al Green, and Boyz II Men.

Public Image

From a young age, Usher has been an international sex symbol, largely due to his captivating stage presence and sultry lyrics. His sexiness is attributed to his gestures, movements, and the way he expresses his lyrics in his live performances. VH1 goes as far as to label him “the sexiest male performer ever to walk a stage.” To solidify his charisma, Usher was featured in People’s Sexiest Men Alive lists in both 2004 and 2008.

After his marriage to Tameka Foster, Usher’s public image evolved as he showed more of his mature and responsible side while retaining the playful charisma that made him famous.

He was also known for his impact on fashion and style. Billboard commended him as a modern-day fashion icon with a distinctive look in 2012, while Complex included him in its “Most Stylish R&B Singers of the ’90s” list in 2013. His Calvin Klein Collection suits garnered attention at the Golden Globe Awards and Grammy Awards in 2014 and 2015, respectively, earning him recognition as one of the “Best Dressed Men.”

Personal Life

Usher entered into a relationship with TLC member Chilli Thomas in 2001. They broke up after three years of dating. After this, he briefly dated British supermodel Naomi Campbell in 2004 and was later linked to model Eishia Brightwell in 2005.

In late 2005, Usher began dating his personal stylist, Tameka Foster. Their engagement was announced in February 2007, and they got married in a civil ceremony on August 3, 2007. They originally planned to get married in July in the Hamptons, but it was canceled, so they held a larger wedding ceremony on September 1, 2007.

Through his marriage to Foster, Usher became a stepfather to her three sons and had two children of their own: Usher “Cinco” Raymond V in November 2007 and Naviyd Ely Raymond in December 2008. Foster faced health complications in 2009 after a cosmetic surgery-related cardiac arrest in Brazil, prompting Usher to cancel performances and be by her side.

The marriage was unsuccessful, though – they divorced after two years of marriage in 2009. The two had a contentious relationship after the divorce, as they had a highly publicized child custody battle that spanned three years. In the end, Usher was granted primary custody of their two sons in 2012.  

Tragedy struck in 2012 when Foster’s 11-year-old son, Kile Glover, Usher’s former stepson, suffered a fatal accident on Lake Lanier. In 2013, Usher’s eldest son, Usher V, faced a near-drowning incident in a pool at Usher’s home. Because of that, Foster filed for temporary emergency custody, which was later dismissed.

In 2015, Usher secretly wed his girlfriend and manager, Grace Miguel, whom he started dating in 2009. However, they split up in 2018 and divorced later that year.  

In 2019, Usher and music executive Jenn Goicoechea sparked dating rumors after they were spotted together on a mutual friend’s birthday. They welcomed their first daughter together on September 24, 2020, and their second child on September 29, 2021.

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