When I started publishing Weekly Music Commentary I knew the day would come when I would feature Usher. He has enjoyed an illustrious career full of major accomplishments all before reaching the age of forty. I am somewhat indifferent when it comes to Usher the singer. While there is no way I can deny the level of talent the sensational star retains, I must admit I did not always enjoy all of his music. However, Usher’s eighth studio album UR, should be something very special based upon reviews of singles already released. Yet, here we are, at Grammy award weekend with the performer of almost twenty-five years turning in what may be great work, and receiving due recognition.
Usher has spent his time in the music industry working extremely hard, and has achieved much success. The RIAA (the Recording Industry Association of America) ranks Usher as one of the best-selling artists in American music history, having sold over 23 million copies in the United States alone. To date, he has sold over 65 million records worldwide. Usher has won numerous awards including eight Grammy Awards. At the end of 2009, Usher was named the number one Hot 100 artist of the 2000s decade. Billboard named him the second most successful artist of the 2000s decade, with his 2004 album Confessions being ranked as the top solo album of the 2000s decade. Billboard also placed Usher at number six on their list of Top 50 R&B/Hip-Hop Artists of the Past 25 Years.
Certainly, there are many young, aspiring artists who have watched Usher ascend to greatness and strive to be like him. They watch every dance move on his videos and listen carefully to how he sings each note of a song. He continues to gain more admirers as he appears on television shows and movies. It’s not hard to understand why a young artist would emulate Usher and work to attain a similar career in entertainment. However, as I consider how a young person may look to Usher for inspiration, I thought about where Usher looked for motivation.
It is not too hard to figure out that Usher truly admired Michael Jackson. Hundreds of entertainers list Jackson as one of the most influential artists in modern day music. In fact, music historians readily state Michael Jackson may have been the greatest entertainer of all time. Usher viewed much more than Jackson’s work as an artist. He had appreciation for the body of philanthropic efforts just as much as Jackson’s singing and dancing abilities. Usher once told MTV, “He influenced me in so many ways, more than just music ….. as a humanitarian, as a philanthropist, as an artist, as an individual who transcended culture. I wouldn’t be who I am today without Michael Jackson.”
I understand Usher feeling this way about his source of inspiration. Nevertheless, as I read Usher’s statement I wondered if Michael Jackson had his own source of inspiration. Remember that if Jackson was alive today he would be fifty-six years old, therefore his perspective would be quite different than Usher. Michael Jackson listed a few entertainers of yesterday that provided inspiration for his work. Nonetheless, James Brown was Jackson’s greatest inspiration. In reference to Brown, Jackson declared: “Ever since I was a small child, no more than like six years old, my mother would wake me no matter what time it was, if I was sleeping, no matter what I was doing, to watch the television to see the master at work. And when I saw him move, I was mesmerized. I had never seen a performer perform like James Brown, and right then and there I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life because of James Brown.”
One other entertainer that Jackson mentioned reminded me most of Usher: Sammy Davis, Jr. Of course Usher is far removed from the Vaudeville days of Davis, and even the later movie and stage segment of his career is something Usher can only read about or view on television. For me I look at Davis’ overall abilities as extremely talented singer, dancer and actor that mirror Usher today. Usher may not list Sammy Davis, Jr. as a source of inspiration, but he certainly is on a similar career path. If Sammy Davis, Jr. was active today I imagine his music would sound very much like Usher. I’m looking forward to viewing Usher’s performance on the Grammy award show. For those of us who can remember Sammy Davis, Jr., look upon young Usher Raymond and see if you spot similarities. Sammy Davis, Jr. may be inspiring a young entertainer from a distance.