Megastar Usher made a very low-key, hush-hush visit to Tallahatchie County late Monday afternoon.
For anyone who may be unfamiliar with the 42-year-old singer-songwriter, actor and dancer, suffice to say that Usher is one of the most awarded recording artists of all time in the R&B, pop and hip-hop genres. He also is highly acclaimed for his work in film and on the stage.
His visit to rural Tallahatchie was unrelated to any of that.
When Usher drove his RV through the northernmost gate of the 92-acre Smith Farm, on Tatum Pond Road east of Charleston, it was to meet and greet some local residents who he believes should be celebrated in their own right.
Accompanied by his partner Jennifer Goicoechea and their baby girl, Sovereign, who turns 4 months old Sunday, Jan. 24, Usher came to pay tribute to the Black cowboys and cowgirls of the Mississippi Delta and to salute a local Black mayor.
The visit is the outgrowth of a recent chance encounter while Usher and Jennifer were scrolling through online posts on the photo- and video-sharing service, Instagram.
There, they stumbled across some photos by Cleveland photographer Rory Doyle, whose ongoing award-winning project, Delta Hill Riders, features images of African American cowboys and cowgirls in Mississippi.
Usher was intrigued.
“Black cowboys is an anomaly and such an amazing thing,” he said Monday.
Peggy Smith of Charleston — a member of the Smith Farm family of owners — is a member of the Delta Hill Riders. Usher saw her photo on Instagram and decided to reach out. His manager contacted Peggy last week.
“It was a thrill when his manager called and said Usher wants to meet with y’all,” noted Peggy. “I said it would be a privilege to meet him.”
As it turned out, Usher and his family were taking a little road trip from Los Angeles to Florida and back home, so a side stop in Mississippi was planned.
Not only would they get to see Peggy, but also her brother, Sedrick Smith Sr., who in 2013, at the age of 41, became the youngest and first Black mayor of Charleston in the 176-year history of the city.
After first stopping in Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, earlier Monday for special festivities at the Edmund Pettus Bridge and to tour the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Usher and his family arrived at Smith Farm just after 4:30 p.m.
About two-dozen Smith family members were on hand to greet them. The visit had been kept tightly under wraps to avoid a scene.
The family was excited enough for the entire community, although they did an admirable job of holding their enthusiasm in check.
A self-described longtime Usher fan, Sedrick Smith, in his eighth year as mayor, said it was “a pleasure” and “an honor” to have the celebrity visit the community and, especially, his family’s farm.
Peggy Smith added, “It’s a thrill to have him out here, for him to even come to Charleston, Mississippi. That’s a big thrill.”
Usher said the pleasure was all his “to be able to have access to [the Black cowboys], see them and celebrate them,” adding, “I wanted the world to see them.” He said he wants others to know and appreciate the rich history and tradition of African American cowboys and cowgirls in the United States.
Of Sedrick Smith, Usher said, “I just really wanted to come out here and celebrate him. ... This is an amazing feat to see a young, African American mayor. I’m really, really excited about that.”
Reminded that the Tallahatchie County Courthouse in Sumner was the site of the Emmett Till murder trial in 1955, Usher said, “It is an odd history here. That’s why it’s gratifying to see a young African American [mayor] here in this town, given the fact there has been such an odd history over time. We obviously have to support our own, and I just wanted to be here to support them.”
Asked about the ongoing political upheaval in the United States, Usher said that the continuing saga was one of the reasons he and his family decided to take a road trip and “get out and see the world.”
With all of the difficult challenges faced by so many in 2020, he noted that the new year presents an opportunity to turn the page.
“This is a good time for us to be closer, to band together and get to know each other for all of our differences — Republican, Democratic — and hope for a better 2021.”
While at Smith Farm, Usher visited the horse stable, where he met the acquaintance of a horse named “Jake.” After rubbing the steed, he hand-fed him some hay.
He and Mayor Smith then mounted Tennessee walking horses owned by the mayor’s son for a roughly 20-minute ride across Smith Farm pastureland. Usher rode “Mr. A.” The mayor sat astride “Hot Charlie.”
Sedrick Smith Jr. commented how much he “liked the idea” that Usher was riding one of his horses.
After dismounting, Usher was overheard telling the mayor, “Good ride, man. I need to come back out here and ride with y’all more.”
Smith family members were enthusiastic in extending him a welcome for future visits.
After posing for several photos, Usher thanked his hosts and said his goodbyes.
The visit lasted about an hour and 10 minutes, generating quite a bit of excitement for a select few in this little corner of Tallahatchie County.