Usher has spent the last two decades making us swoon with his chart-topping music hits and smooth dance moves. Wonderwall.com is taking a look back at his life, including the amazing highs and painful lows that have shaped this soulful singer into the man he is today. Keep reading to find out more…
Usher Terry Raymond IV was born in 1978 to Jonetta Patton and Usher Raymond III. He spent his childhood in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he was raised primarily by his mother, as his father left their family when Usher was still a baby. Sadly, even though Usher's father lived in the same town, he never formed a strong relationship with his son and as a child, Usher felt hurt and confused by his father's absence. While his family dynamics were difficult, one thing that came easily to Usher was singing. At 9, he joined the choir at the Baptist church his family attended. At 10, he joined a boy band called NuBeginning. While in the group, his mom realized her son had "star potential," so when Usher was 12, she packed up and moved their family (which included Usher's little brother, James Lackey aka "J. Lack") to Atlanta in hopes that her eldest son would be discovered.
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Usher credits his mom, Jonetta Patton (seen here with her son in 2006 at a charity ball), and her faith in his singing ability for his success. After Jonetta took her family out of Tennessee in 1990 to explore music opportunities for Usher in Atlanta, she signed him up for singing competitions and contests including Atlanta's premiere talent show, "Star Search." Usher, then just 13, dazzled the audience with his smooth vocals and dance moves and ended up winning his very first competition. Soon, he developed a reputation as "the next Michael Jackson."
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When Usher won "Star Search" in 1991, he inevitably caught the attention of talent scouts, including Bryant Reid, who worked with LaFace Records and artists like Toni Braxton and TLC. Bryant's brother was also someone of note — famous music producer L.A. Reid (seen here with Usher in 1995). Bryant called his big brother to tell him about the young man and shared a video tape of Usher's "Star Search" performance. L.A. was blown away with the natural talent he saw on the screen and told his brother to bring Usher to his office right away so he could meet the young man. When Usher arrived, he wasted no time working the room, flirting with women in the office while grabbing their hands and kissing them. L.A. signed him on the spot. Usher's mom, Jonetta Patton, quit her job and became her son's manager.
One of Usher's earliest mentors was Bad Boy Records CEO Sean "Diddy" Combs (who was known as Puff Daddy at the time). After L.A. Reid signed Usher to his label, he sent the budding star to stay with Puffy in New York in order to "season" the young performer, calling his time spent there "flavor camp." At just 14, Usher was going to wild parties where there were drugs, sex and other famous performers like The Notorious B.I.G., Lil' Kim and more. Puffy was meant to help shape Usher into a hip-hop star and prepare him for his debut album. Usher remembers the year he spent there as a "wild time."
On Dec. 16, 1993, 14-year-old Usher Raymond released his debut single, "Call Me a Mack," on the Epic/LaFace label. While the song only reached No. 56 on the Billboard Hot R&B/hip-hop songs chart, it introduced the world to the rising young performer. The song was included on the soundtrack for the movie "Poetic Justice," which starred Tupac Shakur and Janet Jackson. In August 1994, Usher's self-titled debut album dropped with 14 new songs like "Can U Get Wit It" and "Think of You" — and the latter reached No. 8 on the Billboard R&B singles chart. The album didn't perform as well as expected, causing Usher's mentor, Bad Boy record executive Sean "Diddy" Combs, to pass on working with the young star on his next album. Usher claims there was no bad blood between them and that even from afar, he always considered Sean to be like his brother.
In September 1997, Usher released his sophomore album, "My Way," which went six-times platinum, showing that the young star had finally found his groove. The album's lead single, "You Make Me Wanna," reached No. 1 on three separate U.S. Billboard charts including Hot R&B, Hot Dance Music and Rhythmic Top 40. His next single, "Nice and Slow," reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and title track "My Way" reached No. 2. Many of the album's songs were co-written and produced by musical genius Jermaine Dupri, which proved to be the magic ticket for Usher's success. Along with the hit singles, the album also reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remained there for three weeks. Usher was now a bona fide superstar.
Following the success of second album "My Way," Usher earned his first Grammy nomination in 1998 for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for his song "You Make Me Wanna." When his name was announced as a nominee, the young star posed with an award while kissing his mom, Jonetta Patton, for good luck (seen here). Although Usher didn't end up winning the Grammy, his nomination proved what fans already knew — Usher was on the rise.
Usher made his TV debut in 1997 (the same year he dropped his sophomore album) with a recurring role on "Moesha" as handsome Jeremy Davis. In 1998, along with earning his first Grammy nomination, Usher starred alongside Elijah Wood in "The Faculty" (seen here), a movie about a group of high school kids who believe their teachers are actually aliens. Usher also made time to appear on nine episodes of the daytime drama "The Bold and the Beautiful." These roles gave Usher a new outlet for performing. Since then, he's made occasional appearances on TV shows and in films like "She's All That," "7th Heaven" and "Soul Food."
As if Usher needed any reminders that he was one of the sexiest performers of the decade, Teen People included the handsome singer in their list of the 21 hottest stars under 21 in 1999. At the time, Usher (seen here that same year) was just a few months shy of turning 21 but had already earned a reputation as a ladies man. To keep a level head (and do something positive in the world), he launched his own nonprofit, Usher's New Look Foundation, in 1999. His goal was to engage the most underprivileged children across the nation in a comprehensive mentorship program to help them become future global leaders. The foundation has grown over the years and continues to thrive with chapters in Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles, Milwaukee and New York.
In 2001, Usher dropped his highly anticipated third studio album, "8701," which was a play on its release date (Aug. 7, 2001). The album debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and went four-times platinum. Hit singles included "U Remind Me" and "U Got it Bad" — which both reached No. 1 on the Billboard 100.
All of Usher's dedication paid off in 2001 when he finally won his first Grammy Award — for best male R&B vocal performance for the song "U Remind Me."
Also in 2001, Usher and Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas (from TLC) began an intense love affair. Although the pair met in 1993 when 14-year-old Usher was first signed to LaFace Records, Chilli was seven years his senior and at the time, too old to date the burgeoning young star. She later admitted in a VH1 interview that when she first met Usher, she was charmed by his beautiful eyes and charismatic personality, but that felt strange to think those things about someone so young. In the same interview, Usher said he was "nervous as hell" whenever Chilli came to the studio because he thought she was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. Eight years after they first met, the two were finally at a place in their lives where they could act on their emotions and spent the next two years in a high-profile romance. Although they broke up in December 2003, Chilli says Usher was her first "real love." When Usher released his fourth album, "Confessions," in 2004, fans thought the lyrics about cheating were his admission of wrongdoing in his relationship with Chilli, but she later claimed that wasn't the case.
By late 2004, Usher had moved as and been romantically linked to supermodel Naomi Campbell. Reports claimed Naomi was so smitten with the singer that she promised to hide inside Usher's 26th birthday cake at a swanky private party she threw him. While we can't confirm (or deny) it happened, we do know the couple only dated a few months before calling it quits. Some reports claimed Usher broke it off because he was bored with Naomi while others alleged she was the one to end things because his management team and publicists were "too controlling" and she was tired of it.
Already dominating the pop and R&B charts, Usher (seen here talking to basketball star Kyrie Irving in 2013) decided to tackle the world of sports in 2005. No, he didn't plan to become a pro athlete. He joined a group of investors to purchase the Cleveland Cavaliers — a top NBA team worth (then) an estimated $375 million. Although Usher was listed as a minor member of the investment group (which was headed by Quicken Loans CEO Dan Gilbert), the sale gave him the official authority to sit courtside and cheer for "his" team.
In August 2006, Usher made his Broadway debut in the revival of the musical "Chicago" as the lowdown, shiesty lawyer Billy Flynn. Although Usher initially committed to the show for two months, he was forced to depart a week early when he came down with a nasty case of strep throat. His absence cost the production nearly $400,000 in refunds when fans, who only bought the tickets to see the singer, learned he wasn't going to be on stage any longer. It might have been for the best, however, as critics gave Usher's performance a shoulder shrug and eye roll for being "not bad" but also "not interesting."
On Aug. 3, 2007, Usher married celebrity stylist Tameka Foster in a private ceremony without his mom, Jonetta Patton, in attendance. The couple (seen here three months before their wedding) experienced a lot of backlash over their relationship due to their seven-year age difference, the fact that Tameka had three children from previous relationships and had only divorced the father of two of her children five months before marrying Usher. Although the singer was hurt by his mom's decision not to support his marriage, he was very much in love with Tameka at the time. Due to the conflict, Usher and his momager severed their business relationship. However, in 2008, he brought her back on his team, only to formally (and finally) end their professional ties in 2010. Usher and Tameka were only married for two years. During that time, she gave birth to two sons, Usher Raymond V on Nov. 26, 2007, and Naviyd Ely Raymond on Dec. 10, 2008. In 2009, Usher filed for divorce amid rumors he'd been unfaithful.
In 2008, two major things happened in Usher's life. First, his estranged father, Usher Raymond III, died at 52 on Jan. 18 from an apparent heart attack. Although Usher never developed a relationship with his dad, his death led the star to adopt a healthier lifestyle, including turning to vegetarianism to reduce his own risk of a potential heart attack (that dietary change didn't last long, however). That same year, Usher flexed his business muscles by forming his own record label with partner Scooter Braun (seen here with Usher in 2015), a talent manager and owner of School Boy Records. Their newly formed Raymond-Braun Media Group later signed a relatively unknown Canadian singer by the name of Justin Bieber. Scooter saw Justin performing on YouTube and worked with Usher to sign him to RBMG. Justin's first single, "One Time," was released in 2009 and from there, he became a worldwide pop sensation.
On July 21, 2012, Usher's ex-wife, Tameka Foster, lost her 11-year-old son, Kile Glover, (seen here on the far right in a family photo from 2008) in a tragic Jet Ski accident that left him with fatal brain damage. Although Tameka and Usher were in the midst of a bitter custody battle over their two sons, Usher a point to honor his late stepson at his funeral. After Kile's service, Usher reportedly asked Tameka if they could put the custody battle to rest and just work together on raising their sons, but she allegedly wanted to see the proceedings through to their conclusion.
In a legal battle that spanned three years, Usher was awarded primary physical custody of sons Usher Raymond V (nicknamed "Cinco") and Naviyd Ely Raymond in August 2013. That same month, just weeks before the court's decision, Cinco nearly drowned in the singer's pool after his arm got stuck in a pool drain while Usher was away. When Cinco was finally rescued, he was unresponsive at first and required emergency CPR, followed by a trip to the hospital. Tameka requested an emergency court hearing after the incident, using it as leverage against Usher for custody. The tactic didn't work in the end. Instead of boasting about his win, however, Usher approached his ex-wife and hugged her after the hearing ended, telling her "I'm sorry" before leaving the courtroom.
On March 25, 2013, Usher debuted as a new coach on Season 4 of the singing competition and reality series "The Voice." Joining him was Colombian singer and songwriter Shakira. The two replaced Cee-Lo Green and Christina Aguilera, who'd left the show for a season to work on their own music careers. Although Team Usher didn't take home the win that season, one of his team members, Michelle Chamuel, was the runner-up. Usher didn't return for Season 5 but came back for Season 6 in 2014. His return paid off because his star pupil, singer Josh Kaufman, won the competition and gave Team Usher its first and only win.
In March 2015, rapper and music mogul JAY-Z acquired the streaming services Tidal and WiMP when he purchased Aspiro, a Swedish tech company, for an impressive $56 million. That same month, the rapper, backed by fellow celebrity owners of Tidal, like Usher (seen here with JAY-Z in 2016), Beyonce, Kanye West, Madonna, Rihanna and more, announced the launch of the streaming music service — meant to rival iTunes, Pandora and Spotify. There was immediate backlash following the announcement, especially when JAY-Z removed all of his music from competing streaming services. Critics claimed it was simply a ploy for rich musicians to get richer. Even with the surrounding controversy, the subscription numbers continued to climb and the company's value skyrocketed. In 2017, Tidal was worth an estimated $600 million, making Usher, JAY-Z, Beyonce and the rest of the owners very, very rich. In January 2017, JAY-Z reportedly sold his 33 percent stake for $200 million, while Usher opted to remain as a co-owner of the company.
While Usher and Grace Miguel (seen here in January 2015) kept their romance (which began in late 2009) quiet for years, it was next to impossible to keep the lid on their secret marriage in Cuba in September 2015. According to Usher, Grace, who works as his manager and is a top executive for Def Jam Records, is an "incredible partner and manager" who's been able to support and understand "all of who I am." Grace is eight years older than the singer (he clearly likes older women) and the mother of two teenagers from a previous relationship. She reportedly embraced Usher's sons as her own and has been a positive presence in her husband's life. Usher's mom, Jonetta Patton, however, might not have felt the same way. It is rumored that the end of her business relationship with her son in 2010 was due to her dislike of Grace (who was, at the time, Usher's girlfriend).
On Sept. 7, 2016, Usher was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It was the 2,588th star but Usher claims it made him feel "like No. 1." He was joined by his sons and wife, Grace Miguel, at the ceremony. The honor came just days before Usher's eighth studio album, "Hard Love II," was released exclusively on the Tidal streaming service, which he co-owns.
Usher (seen here hosting a Las Vegas pool party in May) was living the high life in early 2017. That changed in July 2017 when Radar Online broke a story claiming Usher paid a woman a $1.1 million to settle a lawsuit after he allegedly infected her with herpes. The news made headlines and soon more alleged victims came forward to file lawsuits against the singer. In September 2017, Usher's legal team responded, claiming the lawsuits were "without merit" and "should be dismissed." He also "expressly denied" any alleged conduct and also called it "unintentional," adding that "Any harm that any plaintiff alleges to have suffered was caused in whole or in part by that plaintiff's own negligence." Usher's mom, Jonetta Patton, released a statement on Instagram in September, saying "If I were IN CHARGE this USHER drama would never have gone down," seemingly indicating she believes Usher's wife and manager Grace Miguel had failed to protect him from the scandal. Grace has continued to stand by her husband and refuses to acknowledge the allegations. Usher's ex-wife, Tameka Foster, issued a statement saying she didn't want to be dragged into it and that her health was "great." It's been reported that the first accuser was one of Tameka's close friends who claimed to have engaged in a sexual relationship with Usher in 2009 around the time he was allegedly diagnosed with the herpes virus.
Usher and his manager wife, Grace Miguel, revealed in March 2018 that they'd called it quits after two and a half years of marriage. "After much thought and consideration we have mutually decided to separate as a couple," they told Us Weekly in a joint statement on March 6, 2018. "We remain deeply connected, loving friends who will continue supporting each other through the next phases of our lives. The enormous amount of love and respect that we have for each other will only increase as we move forward." A source told Us that the pair quietly separated a few months before they issued the statement.