Billy Usher

Photo of Billy Usher

Vocalist Billy Usher sang with a number of bands during the 1940s, rarely staying more than a few weeks in any orchestra. Born in Omaha, Nebraska, Usher was the son of Irish immigrants. His family had moved to Chicago by 1930 but had returned to Omaha by 1935, and by 1940 they had settled in Manhattan, where Usher worked as a delivery boy for a delicatessen while pursuing a career as a singer.[1]

Usher’s first break came in mid-1941 when he sang with Jack Teagarden’s band. He didn’t stay long with Teagarden and may have only been a temporary substitute for regular singer David Allen. Usher also sang for George “Pee Wee” Erwin in early 1942 and Shep Fields in early 1943. He then spent time as a solo artist before joining Sonny Dunham’s band in early 1944. He left Dunham in late May. While with Dunham’s band, he met singer Pat Cameron, and the two married later that year.

After leaving Dunham, Usher opened as a single in Albany, New York, and suffered an embarrassment after confiding to a couple of new acquaintances there that his draft papers had been stolen or lost shortly before he left the band. His new friends turned out to be government men, and Usher was taken to the local jail, where he spent the night. He straightened out the matter with the draft board the next day.

Usher briefly worked for Harry James in November 1944, taking the place of Buddy Di Vito, who had received his draft notice. When Di Vito was rejected by the draft board, he returned to James, and Usher was let go.

In February 1945, Usher joined Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra as one of two male vocalists competing for a permanent spot in the band. The other was Frankie Lester. Dorsey was having trouble finding reliable boy singers at that time, and he put both men in front of the mike. Usher was gone in late February, signing with the NBC Blue Network to replace Tommy Taylor in the program On the Sunny Side of the Street in March.

After leaving Dorsey, Usher also appeared as an uncredited talent show winner in the Universal Pictures musical On Stage Everybody. Publicity for the film touted him as one of ten winners of a nationwide contest, though in reality all were established show business talents. Each winner was shown in publicity photos receiving a movie contract.

In June 1945, before On Stage Everybody had reached the theaters, Usher joined Randy Brooks’ orchestra, appearing in the band’s self-titled musical short for Columbia and singing on the band’s first recording sessions with Decca. Usher remained with Brooks through early 1946, where his wife, Cameron, joined him in January. Both had left the band by March of that year. In July, he and Cameron joined Pee Wee Erwin’s new band.

In May 1947, Usher was noted as an ex-Gene Krupa vocalist, though it’s unknown when exactly he may have sang with Krupa’s band. That month, he joined Charlie Barnet. By October, though, he was rehearsing with a new band formed by tenor saxophonist Emmett Carls. In early 1949, Usher appeared on his own five-day-a-week, 15-minute radio program on WINS as well as a three-day-a-week, half-hour program on WOR, both New York stations.

In later years, Usher lived in Paris, Arkansas. Billy Usher passed away in 1995 at the age of 74.


  1. In 1940, Usher’s older sister, Phyllis, worked a night club singer. The family also had a lodger who was a dancer at a night club. Usher’s father did “maintenance work” for an “art project.” ↩︎


  1. The Online Discographical Project. Accessed 2 Feb. 2018.
  2. “Billy Usher.” IMDb. Accessed 2 Feb. 2018.
  3. “Joe Mooney To Teagarden.” Down Beat 15 Jun. 1941: 1.
  4. “On the Stand: George (Pee-Wee) Erwin” Billboard 14 Feb. 1942: 22.
  5. “On the Air: Shep Fields” Billboard 9 Jan. 1943: 26.
  6. “Help Wanted ---- Male” Billboard 10 Jul. 1943: 15.
  7. Stevenson, L.L. “Lights of New York” Bluefield Daily Telegraph [Bluefield, West Virginia] 23 Jul. 1943: 4.
  8. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 1 Sep. 1943: 9.
  9. “Sonny Dunham.” One Night Stand. AFRS, 14 Apr. 1944.
  10. “Chicago Band Briefs.” Down Beat 15 May 1944: 4.
  11. “In Short” Billboard 15 Jul. 1944: 29.
  12. “Lost Papers Put Bill Usher In Jug.” Down Beat 1 Sep. 1944: 1.
  13. “Buddy DeVito Rejoins Horn.” Down Beat 1 Nov. 1944: 1.
  14. “Billy Usher to Sing for James.” Down Beat 15 Nov. 1944: 1.
  15. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 1 Nov. 1944: 5.
  16. “T.D. Male Voice Still Unsettled.” Billboard 10 Feb. 1945: 15.
  17. “Tommy Dorsey.” Victory Parade of Spotlight Bands. AFRS, 12 Feb. 1945.
  18. “Platter Chatter.” Richmond Collegian 23 Feb. 1945: 2.
  19. Rathbun, Joe. “Joe's Radio Parade.” Sunday Times-Signal [Zanesville, Ohio] 18 Mar. 1945: 2-10.
  20. “Advanced Record Releases.” Billboard 31 Mar. 1945: 23.
  21. “Hollywood Bound.” Hagerstown Daily Mail 5 Apr. 1945: 8.
  22. “Advanced Record Releases.” Billboard 7 Apr. 1945: 66.
  23. “Record Reviews.” Billboard 14 Apr. 1945: 23.
  24. “Advanced Record Releases.” Billboard 11 Aug. 1945: 21.
  25. “Dorothy Kilgallen.” Lowell Sun [Lowell, Massachusetts] 15 Sep. 1945: 11.
  26. “Record Reviews.” Billboard 22 Sep. 1945: 85.
  27. “'On Stage Everybody' to Open Here on Friday.” Hanover Evening Sun [Hanover, Pennsylvania] 3 Nov. 1945: 4.
  28. “Advanced Record Releases.” Billboard 12 Jan. 1946: 30.
  29. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 14 Jan. 1946: 1.
  30. “Randy Brooks Changes Men.” Down Beat 8 Apr. 1946: 16.
  31. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 1 Jul. 1946: 1.
  32. “Pee Wee Erwin To Stay In NYC With New Band.” Down Beat 9 Sep. 1946: 3.
  33. “Usher Joins Barnet.” Down Beat 7 May 1947: 1.
  34. “On the Stand: Charlie Barnet” Billboard 17 May 1947: 35
  35. “Usher Gets Airers.” Down Beat 11 Mar. 1949: 18.
  36. “Alexander Agency” Billboard 19 May 1956: 32.
  37. “United States Social Security Death Index,” database, FamilySearch ( : 7 January 2021), William J Usher, 07 Nov 1995; citing U.S. Social Security Administration, Death Master File, database (Alexandria, Virginia: National Technical Information Service, ongoing).
  38. “United States Census, 1930,” FamilySearch ( : Fri Oct 06 09:34:54 UTC 2023), Entry for William J Usher and Irene Mary Usher, 1930.
  39. “United States Census, 1940,” FamilySearch ( : Tue Nov 28 16:02:28 UTC 2023), Entry for William J Usher and Irene M Usher, 1940.