Billboard Bits: Usher/Doug E. Fresh, Liz Phair & More

News on Usher/Doug E. Fresh, Liz Phair & More

UsherR&B star Usher and rap veteran Doug E. Fresh have joined the lineup of the National Basketball Association's (NBA) Read to Achieve Celebration. Set for Feb. 8 at Atlanta's Phillips Arena, the event will see Usher joining NBA stars Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets and Jason Terry of the Atlanta Hawks to discuss the importance of reading. Fresh, author of the rap-along Scholastic children's book "Think Again," will make a special appearance to encourage kids in the development of a lifelong love for reading.

Part of the festivities surrounding the NBA's All-Star Game, the hour-long event will be broadcast live on 12 networks, including ABC, TNT, Nickelodeon, BET, Disney Channel, Telemundo, and Canada's MuchMusic. As previously reported, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, B2K, and L.L. Cool J will perform.

-- Barry A. Jeckell, N.Y.

Liz PhairLiz Phair will resurface in late spring with her fourth studio album. The set is tentatively set for a May 20 release by Capitol, although a spokesperson could not confirm the rumored title "Happy Tragic Thing." Phair unveiled the new songs "Rock Me," "Why Can't I?," and "Extraordinary" last week during a performance as part of the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. As previously reported, she also joined Ben Lee at a separate show for a cover of Dramarama's "Anything, Anything."

The new album is Phair's first since 1998's "Whitechocolatespaceegg," which debuted at No. 35 on The Billboard 200. The artist has collaborated with a slew of producers and songwriters, ranging from Michael Penn and Pete Yorn to the Matrix production team, best known for its work with teen sensation Avril Lavigne.

-- Jonathan Cohen, N.Y.

BujuJamaican dancehall star Buju Banton, Shaggy, Sean Paul, Steel Pulse, and Damian Marley are set to co-headline the 22nd annual Ragga Muffins Festival -- Bob Marley Day celebration, slated for Feb. 15-16 at Long Beach, Calif.'s Long Beach Arena. Shows begin at 1 p.m. each day and will also feature performers such as Wailing Souls, Lloyd Brown, and Tippa Irie.

As previously reported, Banton's first album in three years, "Friends for Life," is due out March 11 on VP/WEA/Atlantic and March 3 in Europe via Anti/Epitaph. Banton will perform many songs from the new disc at the Ragga Muffins Festival, which will precede his 60-city U.S. tour in support of "Friends for Life," due to start March 13 at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom.

-- Troy Carpenter, N.Y.