Chattanooga Goes ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah’ as Usher Returns Home, Receives Key to the City

Usher at podium is joined on stage platform, from right, Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly; Shay McGowan; County Mayor Westin Wamp; Julie Sanders; and TN Representative Yusef Hakeem. (Photos by: Herman Prater Sr. and Herman Prater Jr. - visuals by Herman)
Award-winning musician Usher (left) holds a ceremonial key to the city presented by (right) Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly.
Left, Usher visit BSCC and admires personal memorabilia from past performances. (Photo: Tyler Broome)

A roaring crowd of nearly 4,000 gathered on Saturday afternoon, April 20, as Grammy award-winning musician Dr. Usher Raymond IV returned home to receive a ceremonial key to the city. The grand event, aptly titled “Coming Home: A Celebration of Usher,” packed McKenzie Arena with enthusiastic fans and local dignitaries.

Usher’s family was also in attendance, including his wife Jenn and their children, his mother Jonetta Patton, and his brother James (J. Lack) Lackey.

Referred to by some critics as the King of R&B, Usher spent his early years in Chattanooga. He has sold over 100 million records, won eight Grammy Awards, 12 Soul Train Music Awards, eight American Music Awards and three Guinness World Records in his illustrious 30-year career.

Some naysayers have accused the legendary artist of ignoring Chattanooga and claiming Atlanta as his hometown. However, upon taking the stage, Usher paused to acknowledge his deep connection to Chattanooga and give credit to the many people who have helped shape his character and his career.

“Even though I’m not here every day, wherever I am, you need to know Chattanooga is the foundation,” he declared, with cheers erupting from the crowd. “I never forgot where I came from, as it helps remind me where I’m going.”

Reflecting on the lessons instilled by his mother and elders who endured the hardships of racial segregation, Usher emphasized the importance of optimism and resilience. “Black boy, Black girl, who comes from this city,” he proclaimed, “you can do whatever you want to do. You can be whoever you want to be. It will always be in the name of Christ. Believe in yourself, and believe in what you know.”

He also acknowledged the South’s long and complicated racial history, offering a vision of a more promising future.

“With this key, I hope that I can unlock something that I think needs to be heard,” he said. “That needs to be seen. Needs to be recognized, because I feel like I represent the other side of the incredible history Chattanooga offers.”

Rep. Yusuf Hakeem honored Usher with a state proclamation thanking him “for his hard work and appreciation to his hometown,” officially marking April 20, 2024 as “Usher Day in Chattanooga.”

“We have the best day, in my opinion, in a city that you can have, when you have one of us come back home and let us know that he hasn’t forgotten where he has come from,” Rep. Hakeem said.

Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly and Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp presented Usher the ceremonial key to the city.

“We are just grateful in Chattanooga to be the origin of your rise to global fame and incredible artistic achievement,” Mayor Kelly told Usher and the assembled crowd. “You have done a tremendous amount to give back to this community already.”

Local leaders–including Chattanooga Business Elite’s annual Black Excellence Chattanooga Awards (BEC) founder Shay McCowan who recognized Usher with the group’s first ever Icon award; and Susan Hansford, who formerly worked at Power 94 radio station–lauded Usher’s success and philanthropy, particularly his efforts in supporting education within Chattanooga’s schools.

Usher himself did not perform at this event. But several artists, including student dancers from Chattanooga High Center for Creative Arts, celebrated his music on stage.

“Thank you to the great, great city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, Mayor Kelly and everyone of you for welcoming me home with open arms and giving me the key to the city,” the chart-topping legend said.

A video chronicling the 45-year-old Usher’s formative years in Chattanooga, including his time at Dalewood Middle School and his early musical endeavors singing in the choir at St. Elmo Missionary Baptist Church, played during the event.

“The city of Chattanooga provided a spark that ignited the fire in me to pursue my dreams as a singer, and I’m thankful for the support I received from so many great family members, friends and mentors so early in my journey,” he said. “Thank you for the honor.”

This is Usher’s third key to a city following Atlanta and Las Vegas.