Usher-Success Over Decades
At age ten, Usher joined an R&B local quintet called the NuBeginnings, which was organized by local music promoter Darryl Wheeler. Usher recorded ten songs with the group in 1991, and the ensuing album, Nubeginning Featuring Usher Raymond IV, was only made available regionally and by mail order. However, Patton took him out because, according to her, it was a "bad experience". The album was re-released nationally in April 2002 by Hip-O Records.
At age 13, Usher met A.J. Alexander at a local talent show in Atlanta. Alexander, who at the time was Bobby Brown's bodyguard, would take Usher around and have him perform in parking lots and talent shows. Alexander invited Bryant Reid, an A&R representative from LaFace Records to see Usher perform on the television talent show Star Search. Following the performance, he arranged an audition for Usher with L.A. Reid, the co-founder of LaFace; Reid signed Usher on the spot to a contract with the record company after Usher sang Boyz II Men hit record "End of the Road". Usher's mother left her job as a medical technician to manage his career. Usher was introduced to the public on "Call Me a Mack", a song he recorded for the soundtrack album to the 1993 drama-romance film Poetic Justice. During this time period, the young Usher first met Chilli of TLC, his label-mate whom he would later date.
Preparing for his debut album, Usher lost his voice. Usher was going through puberty and had a difficult time adjusting his voice. LA Reid became skeptical of Usher and put his album on hold; he thought about dropping him from the label. Usher pleaded with the label to keep him and they did. From this point Reid didn't know what to do with Usher so he sent him to New York in the spring of 1994 to live with record executive Puff Daddy to "attend" what Reid called "Flavor Camp". Usher quickly adapted to the lavish lifestyle of Puff Daddy although in an interview with Rolling Stone, he described this period as the "hardest days" of his life. "I had to knuckle up, figure shit out in New York" he said.
On August 30, 1994, LaFace released Usher's self-titled debut album behind the co-executive production of Sean "P Diddy" Combs. Usher peaked at number twenty-five on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and was accompanied by three singles: "Can U Get wit It", "Think of You", and "The Many Ways". The album has sold over 500,000 copies, to date. The album received backlash because Usher was singing about sex, and him only being 15 years old, the public had a difficult time believing that this was so. Again LaFace had their reservations about signing Usher because the album wasn't as successful as they anticipated. At this time Usher's mother took control of his career and put him in more talent shows the summer of 1995 building Usher a larger fan base and ultimately giving L.A. Reid more confidence in Usher.
After graduating from high school, Usher continued to develop his skills as a stage performer and laid the groundwork for his second album. He also appeared on LaFace's version of "Let's Straighten It Out", a 1995 duet with fellow Atlanta teen recording artist Monica; and on "Dreamin'", from LaFace's 1996 Olympic Games benefit album Rhythm of the Games. He was also featured on "I Swear I'm In Love" off the soundtrack to the 1996 film Kazaam.
1997–2003: My Way and 8701
Usher developed a friendship with American record producer Jermaine Dupri, with whom he co-wrote and produced several tracks for his second album, My Way, released on September 16, 1997. The album's lead single, "You Make Me Wanna...", reached number one in the United Kingdom, becoming Usher's first record to be top single; this resulted in him increasing in popularity. It also became Usher's first gold- and platinum-certified single in the United States. The album's second single, "Nice & Slow", peaked in January 1998 at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, giving Usher his first US number-one single. In February of the same year, the single was certified platinum by the RIAA. My Way has been certified six-time platinum in the United States.
"You Make Me Wanna..." won the Best Male R&B/Soul Single at the 1999 Soul Train Music Awards. In the closing months of 1997, Usher embarked on a series of tour engagements including a spot on Puffy's No Way Out tour, dates with Mary J. Blige, and the opening spot on Janet Jackson's The Velvet Rope Tour. Usher's first concert album, Live, was released in 1999, which featured appearances by Lil' Kim, Jagged Edge, Trey Lorenz, Shanice, Twista and Manuel Seal; the album has been certified gold in the United States.
Usher made his acting debut on the UPN television series Moesha, which resulted in a recurring role on the series and subsequently his first film role in 1998's The Faculty. Usher's extracurricular activities outside of the recording industry gathered momentum over the following year, as he was cast in the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful. He completed two more films, She's All That, and his first starring role in Light It Up. He also appeared in the Disney TV movie Geppetto.
Usher's third studio album, originally titled All About U, was stated to be released in early 2001. The first single, "Pop Ya Collar", was released in late 2000 and became a number two hit in the UK but underperformed in the United States. The album was subsequently pushed back and retooled after select tracks were later leaked to the radio and Internet. After having revised and renamed to 8701, the album was released on August 7, 2001 (8.7.01). The first two singles "U Remind Me" and "U Got It Bad" each topped the Billboard Hot 100 for four and six weeks, respectively. 8701 has been certified four-time platinum in the United States.
Usher appeared in the 2001 film Texas Rangers. In February 2002, Usher won a Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for "U Remind Me". The next year, he won the same award for "U Don't Have to Call", making Usher the only artist aside from Luther Vandross and Stevie Wonder to win this award consecutively. In the summer of 2002, Usher contributed vocals to P. Diddy's "I Need a Girl, Part I". The year closed out with a trio of TV series appearances, all in November, on The Twilight Zone, 7th Heaven, Moesha, and American Dreams, the latter in which Usher portrayed Marvin Gaye.
2004–2009: Confessions and Here I Stand
Usher's fourth studio album, Confessions, was released on March 23, 2004—just as its first single, "Yeah!", was in its sixth week at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and fifth week on top of the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles Chart. The album's nearly 1.1 million unit debut sales was the highest first-week numbers ever scanned by a male R&B artist and the seventh best of the Nielsen SoundScan history. The album has since sold over 20 million copies worldwide, with over 10 million in the United States, earning the album a Diamond certification by the RIAA.
The album's second and third singles, "Burn" and "Confessions Part II", also topped the Billboard Hot 100, the former for eight weeks. Usher became the first artist to top the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay with four consecutive number-one singles, In September 2004, "My Boo", a duet with American singer-songwriter Alicia Keys, also peaked at number one at the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the album's fourth number-one single. In December, the album's final single "Caught Up" peaked at number eight on the Hot 100.
Confessions earned Usher numerous awards, including four American Music Awards, two MTV Europe Music Awards, two MTV Video Music Awards, and three World Music Awards. At the 47th annual Grammy Awards ceremony in 2005, Usher won three awards, including: R&B Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals for "My Boo", which he shared with Keys; Rap/Sung Collaboration for "Yeah!"; and Contemporary R&B Album for Confessions. At the 2004 Billboard Music Awards, Usher was recognized Artist of the Year, in addition to receiving 10 other accolades.
Usher supported Confessions with "The Truth Tour". The tour set featured a small stage up on top of the main stage, where the band played with Usher and his supporting dancers left with enough room to perform. The smaller stage had a mini platform attached to it which lowered to the main stage and had two big staircases on both sides of it. To the left, a group of circular staircases climbed to the top, and to the right, there was a fire escape replete with steps and an elevator. Kanye West and Christina Milian were the opening acts for the tour. Usher at select dates would bring out a special guest, during his Atlanta show taping he brought out his artist at the time Rico Love to rap a verse on the song "Throwback". During a more intimate part of the show, Usher's dancers selected singer Monica from the crowd to be serenaded by Usher while he sang album favorites "Do it to Me" and "Superstar". Usher also performed the Confessions Pt. II remix, where Kanye West would appear from back of the stage. Then lastly Usher would also bring out artist Lil Jon and Ludacris where they would finish the show performing the hit "Yeah". This concert date was filmed to make the official tour DVD of Truth Tour: Behind the Truth "Live from Atlanta". It has been certified by the RIAA selling more than 7 Million copies.
In the spring of 2005, Usher scored a number three Hot 100 hit as a featured vocalist on Lil Jon's "Lovers & Friends". In 2007, Usher also collaborated with R. Kelly on the track "Same Girl", for Kelly's album Double Up. He was also featured in a remix version of Omarion's "Ice Box". Usher also appeared on the track "Shake Down" on American singer-songwriter Mary J. Blige's 2007 album Growing Pains. According to Robert Hilburn of Los Angeles Times, Usher was voted number-one on the executive voting based "Pop's Power List" and described as a "sure-fire property". In November 2005, Usher starred as a disc jockey named Darrell in the Lions Gate film In the Mix.
On August 22, 2006, Usher took over the role of Billy Flynn in the long-running Broadway revival of the musical Chicago. Usher's opening night brought out stars Penélope Cruz, Gabrielle Union, Clive Davis, and Rosie Perez among others. Usher played the role of Flynn for two months but a case of strep throat brought an abrupt ending to Usher's run in Chicago, which saw a spike in ticket sales after he joined the cast. The New York Post reports that Usher's absence cost the production an estimated $400,000 in refunds to disappointed ticket buyers. The producer of Chicago, Barry Weissler, issued a statement sending his "thoughts and best wishes to Usher for a quick and speedy recovery. Usher made a spectacular Broadway debut, bringing a great dedication, work ethic and his amazing talent to the show. We all hope that he might return at some point for the many fans that were unable to see his wonderful performance as Billy Flynn. Usher has found a new home on Broadway and is welcomed back anytime.