It’s not quite seven o’clock on the dot, but it’s around 3pm on the East Coast, and global entertainer and philanthropist Usher Raymond IV joins us via Zoom from his abode in Las Vegas. Keeping it casual in a white tee—and still actively in the mix of his multi-year residency in “Sin City”—the singer is spending his day chatting with media outlets about his new campaign centered around type 1 diabetes.
As a father to a child living with diabetes, it was an easy choice for him to partner with Sanofi, a leader in diabetes care. Usher is the new face of the brand’s “The 1 Pledge Movement” which aims to encourage others to get screened—as well as have their families screened—so that they can be prepared early and better equipped with the tools to tackle this disorder.
“I’m very honored to be a spokesperson for this, especially with my own experience of having a child living with it,” Usher tells EBONY. “The 1 Pledge means that families have the opportunity to be screened and then speak with a doctor afterward. It’s a very urgent call. I’m hoping that I’m ‘ushering’ in something that could be cool for the world to reap the benefits of. So, I wanted to bring my story to the light. I’ve done philanthropic work in the past, but this is a bit more ‘heart’ work.”
Never one to shy away from being vulnerable and transparent, the eight-time Grammy winner opens up about the emotional journey of personally caring for a child with type 1 diabetes while juggling his busy career.
“Being present is key. I make sure to stay available as a dad at all times for my children, while staying committed to the thing that sparked my passion at a very young age. I hope that it’s an inspiration to my kids. I have this dynamic that works for me. My work allows me to be able to spend significant amounts of time with my kids and also be able to remain committed to what it is I love to do. But, that balance is not easy. That balance also comes with a heightened sense of anxiety, especially having a child dealing with a disorder like type 1 diabetes.”
EBONY chatted further with the Confessions vocalist about his storied career. From the viral moments from his My Way: Las Vegas Residency that have kept social media in an uproar to falling back in love with his craft to the impact he hopes to have on spectators of his upcoming Super Bowl LVIII Apple Music halftime performance— Usher doesn’t hold anything back.
“I’ve been able to share, through music, a lot of my pain and a lot of my pleasure.”
EBONY: You’ve been very transparent in the past about being raised without your father present and the effects. How are you now navigating that in this chapter of life? As a father and as a man?
Usher: Sometimes the greatest reference is the lack thereof. Sometimes there is a blessing in the choice that God makes, he doesn’t make mistakes, and you cannot lean on your own understanding. I’ve been able to share, through music, a lot of my pain and a lot of my pleasure. All of those things have led to what I think is a pretty stable guy. I’m not perfect, and I don’t claim to be. What I am is transparent, and what I hope I am is of service to life’s process, so that people can have some reference to say, “Oh wow, I’m not the only one going through this or went through this.”
It’s all perspective. The longer you live, the more you know. My grandmother always said, ‘just keep on living, and eventually you will get it.’ If you are your best self, life will treat you, the universe will meet you. I’ve been very fortunate. I try to be a better dad than the one I didn’t have, and I try to be empathetic to those who need what I may be able to offer—rather it be a song, an opportunity, information or even perspective. I’ve been fortunate to be that vessel in this lifetime.
EBONY: Turning to lighter notes. Let’s talk about your Vegas residency. You’ve mentioned that you wanted to do this as a way to fall back in love with your craft. Do you feel that you’ve ultimately accomplished that?
Usher: Man, me and this career of mine— it’s a long marriage, and it started at a very young age. This residency was an opportunity to get back to normal. I don’t know if it was the love or rather belief that that reconnected me, or the simple fact that I could now interact with people and engage in a way that made what I worked on not feel in vain. You have people who make this plan to get on a plane and come to Las Vegas, they come to see you do your thing. That felt good, and it reminded me of my true magic—to make people feel good and to be present in a moment. I needed that. It wasn’t a song that led me back. That reconnection was good for me, and hopefully it was good for my audience and let them know, I’m still here.
This has all now produced something incredible that has led me to Las Vegas and now the big stage of playing the Super Bowl. My Lovers and Friends Festival is also another incredible thing that made me feel reconnected, and it also happened here in Las Vegas. All of what I got out of here [Vegas] made me fall in love with it again.
Speaking of reconnection. You’ve created some of the hottest viral moments in recent years. Of course, Keke Palmer, recently, A’Ja Wilson and even Doja Cat. When it comes to your VIP guests, do you go into the show with the intention of creating a “viral” interaction, or is it literally about giving your guests something to remember? And, how do you react to these viral moments.
I’m assuming they just organically happen. I don’t know if I plan it. But I think a lot of the viral moments I’ve had, going back to Tiny Desk, were about the authenticity of artistic exchange and people reacting. Which is something that is a love and true passion of mine. It’s a moment I’ve prepared for since I was 11, and what was instilled in me as far as showmanship is serving me now. If that showmanship has turned into a viral moment, great that it did because it reminds you what entertainment and R&B is about. It’s about that serenade and being in the moment, it’s about the energy.
So, I don’t know how to make a viral moment. I just go out there, and what happens, happens. The magic of being able to capture it becomes viral and the surrounding conversation becomes viral.
“…if that etches me in the history books or if I’m already etched in it, I hope it adds to that legacy of that little boy who was 11-years-old.”
Super Bowl 58, it’s coming. You’ve proclaimed it as “the world’s biggest stage,” and it’s something you’ve dreamed of for a very long time. What will you bring that will essentially solidify you as one of the greatest Super Bowl performers thus far?
Celebration. A celebration of life. Thirty years of a career and the songs that go with it. Incredible visuals, dance movement, a language being brought to the world. I hope that what I am bringing is a celebration. And, if that etches me in the history books or if I’m already etched in it, I hope it adds to that legacy of that little boy who was 11-years-old. I’m hoping that all the people who didn’t live to see this moment would be proud of me, and even those who are able to be here. I hope that those 13-minutes mean something incredible to them.
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