What It’s Like To Be Usher’s Road Manager

After a year of traveling with the R&B singer, Keeyah Johnson shares her experience managing his successful global tour.

Keeyah Johnson felt connected to the entertainment industry since she was a young girl in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Just a train ride away, she recalls taking weekly trips to New York City to be in the audience of 106 & Park, the longstanding music video show.  

“I was exposed to entertainment my whole life from the fifth grade,” Johnson tells Sweet July. 

Pursuing a career in entertainment was a no-brainer. Mentors like Egypt Sherrod and volunteer opportunities at programs like the BET Awards and ESSENCE Festival helped pave the way to a successful career for Johnson, so did investing time in building lasting relationships early on. She has been in the industry for over 10 years, and has worked in a range of roles from production assistant to talent manager. Through her brand All Things PR & Events, she manages her various talent and tour management opportunities. “I’ve always wanted to be in a role where I’m not in one box, where I’m not dedicated to one person or one company,” she says.

Johnson, now 33, never imagined that the work she was putting in would lead her to be working with one of the top performers in the world. “I’m on the hottest show that everybody’s talking about,” says Johnson, referring to Usher’s popular Vegas residency. “Anything we do on the show is going viral.” From Usher’s Keke Palmer serenade to 21 Savage singing “My Boo,” there were endless moments that had the Internet talking. “This is something that I always wanted to do. I get to see the country, the world, everywhere, and work with an excellent team that I love,” she adds.

Photo: Courtesy of Keeyah Johnson

Last July, she added road manager to her resume and just completed a year of touring with Usher and managing his shows not only in Vegas but also in Africa, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and Paris. “This is something that I always wanted to do. I get to see the country, the world, everywhere, and work with an excellent team that I love,” she says. The residency, which started in July 2021, will put on its 100th sold out show at Dolby Live on December 3, and Johnson credits the success—achieving a big milestone in such a short time—to every team member involved. 

As she celebrates the end of Usher’s residency and prepares for the road ahead, Johnson shares her career journey, including this one-of-a-kind experience, with Sweet July

You’ve been in entertainment for over 10 years. What are the different roles you’ve had that have helped prepare you for Usher’s My Way The Vegas Residency?

Keeyah Johnson: It started when I was young, attending 106 & Park tapings and building those relationships with the staff, volunteering in media, interning and working my way up to where I am today. My volunteer work for these media companies turned into contract work. I started as a production assistant. I was only making a couple hundred dollars, but I never saw it like that because I always loved what I was doing. I loved the adrenaline rush I would get when working on these fast-paced productions, knowing that my small role added to this large-scale production.

Immediately before working on Usher’s tour as road manager, I worked for Mary J. Blige’s Strength of Woman Festival. I was a talent manager for that for the past two years. Before that, I was working with popular Atlanta restaurateurs and entrepreneurs, The Ayars Agency and Xscape.

Photo: Courtesy of Keeyah Johnson
What does a day in the life of a road manager look like?

KJ: As a road manager, my day-to-day is super long days, but it’s always long days in entertainment. My day could start as early as noon. The dancers and the band are in the building by 3 p.m. My job is to manage their transportation, getting them from where they stay to the venue. I’m organizing our runners. I’m managing wardrobe and glam every day. Once everyone’s in the building and set a couple hours before the show, we move into tickets. While I’m not directly in charge of tickets, I assist the ticket team with our VIP guests, ensuring their tickets are available and making sure will-call is done. Then we have a meet and greet. I must help manage those things while checking on the band and dancers. Sometimes, we have special guest performers, and I’m in charge of corresponding with their teams for rehearsal. I’m that hospitality nucleus, making sure everything is running smoothly.

After the show, there’s an after-party. Then we turn around and do it all over again the next day. My day could end around 2:00 a.m. It goes so fast when you’re in the middle of it because there’s always something happening. And when you love what you do, sometimes you look up, and you don’t even realize that the whole day has gone by.

What excites you to get up in the morning and do this every day?

KJ: I love the live events. There is something about seeing everything I’m doing behind the scenes play out for the enjoyment of fans. It’s just an exhilarating experience. I want to develop and grow a long-lasting career as a woman in touring because there are so many men. It’s such a male-dominated industry.

What advice would you share with someone interested in working in touring?

KJ: Women often might not be into touring because they don’t know how to get started.

I’ve applied for so many jobs online, and looking back at it, every role I received or had was basically through a connection I built. One thing that has helped me with relationship building is knowing that everything is never too big or too small to assist with. Initially, I was interviewing for an executive assistant role, but I knew that was no longer where I wanted to be. When I got to the interview, I asked about other open opportunities. I might not have experience, but if you give me a shot, I promise I won’t let you down. I had to have an open mind to do something else. By speaking up and being open-minded, I got into a role I love now.

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