One Saturday evening in February, the night before the Grammys, Usher, Interscope Records and Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace repurposed the Hollywood Palladium into a skating rink. Usher has been an ambassador of Atlanta culture for nearly 30 years — as long as he has been in the public eye — but as of late, he is also an emissary of the roller rink. The night’s event was one of several pop-up skating parties he had helped to curate in recent months.

Usher moves through the world with the bearing of a homecoming king. He didn’t walk so much as float into the room on a cloud of cool and smiles. He wore a burgundy-and-beige leather varsity jacket that recalled the colors and insignia of Morehouse College, the prestigious men’s school in Atlanta. He stands about 5-foot-8, with a small but solid build refined by years of dancing and athletic conditioning. Usher cares about his body. He has to. Performing shirtless — six-pack rippling with sweat and suggestion — has been part of his stage show since he started making teenagers scream in the 1990s. But Usher will turn 45 this month. Staying in performing shape takes weeks of meal prep, physical therapy, acupuncture, cupping, voice lessons and vocal rest. He had spent the day editing the footage he shot for “GLU,” a single from his upcoming album, but here he was, pulling double duty, making work look like play.

We arrived at the Palladium’s parking lot, where a throng of at least 50 people waited at the entrance. Walking over, I felt many hands grabbing at Usher for photos and greetings. Someone elbowed me in the head by accident; Usher pulled me steadily along. I stepped through the metal detector, and he waited for me on the other side while still managing the folks who were approaching him. “Come on, you hanging tough,” he said encouragingly. Once inside, he changed into custom skates with light-up wheels.

Usher is a confident, beautiful skater, coasting backward, gliding crisscross, side to side. He darted in and out of social groups, doing laps with Chris Brown and Jermaine Dupri, and greeted the music executive Jimmy Iovine, Dr. Dre and Paul McCartney. Lil’ Kim came into his section with a gaggle of girlfriends and squealed when Usher stopped by to give her a hug. The singer, actress and choreographer Teyana Taylor and her mother rolled over before pausing to chat. Busta Rhymes arrived in all black just when we were leaving and told Usher, then in his third outfit of the night, that his “drip” was “disrespectful,” in the way that bad means good. Occasionally, Usher skated alone — at one point, I saw him take a moment to himself while Al Green moaned about “Love and Happiness.” He seems so embodied and levelheaded, so smooth and free.

Usher sitting down with sunglasses on.
Usher is, to date, the last R.&B. artist, and the last Black artist of any genre, to release a diamond-certified album.

Usher told me that skating has been therapeutic for him amid the pressure of the past few years. It was a way to “work things out energetically, physically, musically and spiritually.” I got a liberating feeling watching him skate. “I’m not 40 years old in that rink,” he said. “I don’t even know how old I am. I might be the 13-year-old kid that’s just having a good time. I might be the 25-year-old who just figured out how the bop goes. I can just be super fly and sexy.” The singer took a moment to reflect at the end of the night. “It’s a lot,” he sighed.

Usher was very, very busy again. Booked within an inch of his life. Despite the care he takes with his body, he was barely getting a good night’s rest. (Usher is a night owl and a bit of an insomniac. “That is something I think I’ll never completely fix,” he told me.) He was a few weeks shy of beginning the next leg of his My Way Residency in Las Vegas, which for the better part of the past two years has been arguably the hottest show in America.

It feels as if we’re in the middle of another creative peak for the musician — an Usher renaissance, if you will. It’s coming almost 30 years after his self-titled debut was released in 1994, when he was 15, and nearly 20 years after the release of “Confessions,” his tour de force, which sold more than 15 million copies worldwide. His “Tiny Desk” performance last summer was one of NPR’s most viewed ever. He made much-discussed appearances at Paris men’s fashion week, Vanity Fair’s Oscar party and the Met Gala. And in late September, it was announced that Usher would perform during next year’s Super Bowl halftime show. The game will be in Vegas, his turf now.

Usher’s renaissance has unfolded in a season of anxiety about the viability of R.&B., amid existential threats from hip-hop, pop and Afrobeats. “Coming Home,” his ninth album — slated for release in February, on the same day as the Super Bowl — will be a referendum on the genre’s future as much as it is a statement about how a legacy artist continues to stay relevant. The album has been gestating for years, its release delayed more than once. In 2019, Usher teased, on Instagram, that he was working on “Confessions 2.” Since then, he has scrapped the idea (“I want to be better than I was,” he told GQ). He and his team have listened to dozens of his best recordings, refining themes while tweaking their sequencing. Singles have been released and, in effect, real-life market-tested with audiences. Most were hits on R.&B. radio. But so far, only one song reached the Top 40 on the pop charts, a far cry from his commercial peak in the late 1990s and 2000s, when Usher earned nine No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100. At present, few Black artists rise to the mainstream charts’ highest spots.

If the album is a hit, he is back on top again and a savior of R.&B. If it’s less than a success, Usher could be seen as a nostalgia act we turn to like a jukebox, playing the old songs on demand. Jermaine Dupri, one of Usher’s collaborators since 1997, believes the singer is at a crossroads. “From this point, Usher can’t go backward,” he says. “This show is so fabulous. Now he has to figure out the music to make that makes people feel the same way those records that he’s performing does so that he can actually stay in that space.” After so much success, how does an artist continue to grow? “You’re fighting to not do what you’ve already done and try to give people something different,” Dupri continues. “And the fans sometimes don’t want different; they want exactly what they’ve heard.”

Across its many iterations, R.&B. has pondered the intricacies of connection — to your flesh, desires and spirit, to family, community or a higher power. The My Way Residency reflects those connections many times over, like a hall of mirrors. A theatrical exploration of love, sex, ego death and rebirth, with nearly a dozen costume changes, elaborate set pieces and multiple jaunts into the audience, the show moves through various moods: a speakeasy-inspired opener with energetic yet sensuous up-tempos; strip-club anthems; skating-rink bops; lovesick ballads; euphoria-inducing electronic dance music. It lasts for close to three hours.

The concert feels like a second-line parade, a kind of post-pandemic celebration for thousands of R.&B.-loving shut-ins. Usher’s 20-performance run at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in 2021 grossed nearly a million dollars every night. Last year’s residency ran from July through October and sold out. This year, the show has been extended several times, and a remixed version opened in Paris in late September. Clips of celebrities like Issa Rae, Taraji P. Henson, Zendaya, Tom Holland and the Kardashians attending the concerts frequently go viral.

It’s one thing to see clips of the show; it’s another to witness it firsthand. On one of the nights I went, in March, the crowd seemed to be full of what R.&B. enthusiasts call the “grown and sexy,” fans 30 and older and nearly all Black — couples on a luxe date night, bachelorettes, sister-friends on a girls trip. The women were dressed: bare midriffs, stiletto pumps, long wefts of hair, thick black lashes. Leather pants and bodycon. Sequins and tiny, sparkling purses. “Adults go out to be entertained,” the critic Nelson George, who also attended the show, told me. “They want to hear hits. They want some sexiness. They want some glamour.” My section was on its feet for most of the night. The audience’s enthusiasm is underserved. “When Usher, Beyoncé and Maxwell debuted in the ’90s, there was still R.&B. radio,” George says. “There were R.&B.-based magazines.” He adds: “There were a lot of ways to get the word out about new music. The desire for that live experience has probably grown with time.”

Usher getting on a plane in Los Angeles; during a rehearsal at the Park MGM Las Vegas; preshow stretching.

Without question, the buzziest moments of the residency involve Usher’s seductive serenades. He brings a woman from the audience onto the stage or comes to her, ambling into the arena, looks into her eyes and sings. With that voice: a velvety, acrobatic, mellifluous, full-bodied tenor. The partners of the women being serenaded must be managing a host of complicated emotions. Some annoyance or jealousy, maybe even a little titillation. Of his sex-symbol persona, Usher told me, “I’ve always been there.” These audience interactions distill his unique appeal and the tension at the core of his public image: He presents as both a really nice guy and a Lothario. A courtly Southern gentleman and a rascal. In songs and interviews, he jokes about this perception, playfully warning the husbands and boyfriends of the world, by way of the Notorious B.I.G. — “Don’t leave your girl ’round me.” He is charming and wholesome, but he also harnesses a powerful carnality.

For one night’s opener, Usher wore a white three-piece suit: slacks and a tailored shirt with a vest. He held a drink of dark liquor — the main stage took on the ambience of a cabaret. Like Frank Sinatra, that other Vegas icon, Usher sang the hits. A fuchsia-clad dancer bent over at the waist. Usher placed his drink on top of her behind. The gesture was flirtatious and naughty without seeming rakish. The crowd erupted. His moves were graceful and fiery, infused with the influence of Sammy Davis Jr., Gene Kelly, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Ben Vereen, Bob Fosse and James Brown — a kind of liquid movement that rivals the notes he sings.

Part of Usher’s appeal has been his beguiling interpretation of manhood’s many transitions, from tween boy to hormonal adolescent to fresh-faced Adonis. Usher says he serves “a very specific purpose” in the public imagination, adding, “it involves sexuality, fantasy and masculinity.” In Vegas, he flaunted a kind of virility that made space for the devoted women who had come to watch him work. “And the only thing that’s coming beside me out this situation is you waiting to get some more,” he sang. The crowd objectified him, adored him. He spun, leaped, skated and played a patron at a strip club handing out dollar bills. During “Nice & Slow,” he mimed humping a mic stand and traced a trail down his abs that led to the inside of his leather pants. At one point, he drenched himself with water. In one libidinous set piece after another, he sighed, and cried, and fell to his knees, lying on his back in a fit of ecstasy. In the end, he was born again, closing the show with a frenetic E.D.M. set. The shrieks from the audience sustained him. “I need you to be excited,” he told me, of his reliance on this kind of nonverbal call-and-response. “I want you to scream.” And did they scream.

Before he was a legacy artist, modeling Black masculinity for millions; before the accolades and the clamoring women; before the epic albums confessing his sins, Usher was a child prodigy born in Texas and raised in the hills of Tennessee. Usher Raymond IV began singing in the youth choir of the St. Elmo Missionary Baptist Church in Chattanooga as a very little kid. His mother, Jonnetta O’Neal Patton, who raised him largely on her own, was the choir’s director. “He would sit with his grandfather during devotion, and he would lead songs with the older deacons,” Patton told me. “And then he would sing in my choir. People would request for this little kid to sing.”

She entered him into talent shows, which he won. She quit her job and moved them two hours southeast to Atlanta. It was just a few years after the producer Antonio Reid (who is known by the nickname L.A.) and Babyface started LaFace Records in a suburb just north of the city. Before long, Usher was auditioning for Reid.

In his memoir, “Sing to Me: My Story of Making Music, Finding Magic and Searching for Who’s Next,” Reid writes that he was reluctant to audition a child performer. But Usher’s confidence and charisma were preternatural, and Reid liked the way he sang a well-known cut — Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” — but made it his own. Reid called in all the women in the office. The 13-year-old singer worked the room without a mic and focused in on one woman in particular. He “dropped to his knee in front of her, singing, placing his hand on her thigh, looking dead in her eyes,” Reid writes. “He was seducing her with the confidence of someone who had done it before.” Reid signed Usher on the spot.

“Usher,” his namesake debut, premiered near the bottom of the album charts, though its handful of singles earned good airplay on Black radio. Usher’s second album, “My Way,” was a breakthrough. Soon there were magazine covers and a recurring role on Brandy’s sitcom, “Moesha.” “8701,” his much-anticipated third album, dropped in the summer of 2001 and entered the pop chart at No. 4. It earned Usher his first Grammy, for R.&B. vocal performance, and set the stage for his magnum opus, “Confessions.”

Reid wanted Usher to shed his boy-next-door persona for the fourth album. He wanted him to show more of himself, to let the public in. When recording began, Usher was in a high-profile romance with Rozonda Thomas, also known as Chilli, of TLC. So the songs about infidelity, apologies and sultry encounters piqued the public’s appetite for gossip; they were also beautiful. The two performers broke up shortly before the album debuted.

Usher with his band and dancers right before the show; fans during a show in February; onstage during the show.

“Confessions” was released in spring 2004, buoyed by the lead single, “Yeah!” which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for 12 consecutive weeks. Tongues wagged at seemingly revealing lyrics like “my chick on the side said she got one on the way.” In The Village Voice, Amy Linden wrote, “He can sing his cheating ass off.” The LP sold 1.1 million copies in its first week, a record at the time for a Black artist. Four singles from “Confessions” went to No. 1 pop; deep cuts charted, too. “His ‘Confessions’ album is still his masterpiece because it had a beautiful combination of vocals, songs and emotional commitment,” George says. By 2012, it had become one of the best-selling American albums of all time, going diamond with sales of 10 million copies in the United States alone. That certification put “Confessions” in the company of albums like “Thriller,” “Abbey Road” and “Tapestry.” Usher is, to date, the last R.&B. artist, and the last Black artist of any genre, to release a diamond-certified album.

In 2007, Usher married Tameka Foster, a stylist and design expert seven years his senior. Public outcry ensued; the main tenor of the criticism was that Usher, at 28, was still too young to become a family man. The marriage was seen as a threat to his bachelor image. His next album, “Here I Stand,” debuted at No. 1, but sales showed a decline from “Confessions.” The artist had continued his tradition of drawing from his personal life and chronicled newlywed bliss and new fatherhood. By 2009, the couple had divorced. Usher began to shift his sound, experimenting with E.D.M. In the years after, he introduced the public to Justin Bieber and became a judge on “The Voice.”

Billboard changed the way it calculates its main Black music chart to account for streaming in 2012. By then, Black radio and retail outlets had been in decline for years. The shifts meant the popularity of an R.&B. song would be determined by anyone — not just specialized fans of the genre. The R.&B. and mainstream charts became whiter. In 2013, no Black artists earned pop No. 1 singles, a first since 1958, when the chart began. Usher’s eighth LP, “Hard II Love,” was released in 2016 as a TIDAL exclusive and sold just 38,000 album-equivalent units in its first week.

Dupri told me, “He’s haunted by the ‘Confessions’ record.” I thought of this later, on the set of an Uber commercial Usher filmed to promote the residency. He had taken a break from shooting a scene and was talking to me offstage. He briefly held up the production to articulate a question he had about where he fits in the pop-culture landscape, in light of his past work. “Now that I’ve given people all those things,” he said, with some urgency, “at this age, what do I give them?”

Usher’s 30-year career has been an elegant synthesis of the entire history of R.&B. In many ways, he stands alone. He is a bridge between the bygone era of earnest, harmonizing boy bands and the new generation working in the genre, like Chris Brown, Tory Lanez and Bryson Tiller, who all sing but focus less on vocal virtuosity than on the sonics of trap and hip-hop. This influence seems to rankle many who love R.&B. — some see this cross-pollination as a pernicious threat to its future. Others feel that the rise of melodic rappers like Drake, Gunna and Young Thug has eroded the public’s desire for lush, technically sophisticated vocals. Usher has also leaned into hip-hop, singing in raplike cadences. In some cases, like his first pop No. 1, “Nice & Slow,” he even raps himself. In recent years, he’s delved deeper into rap aesthetics; he released “A” in 2018, a collaboration with the producer Zaytoven, who is known for melding trap sounds and piano. The second version of the new album I heard had more rap features than the first.

Rap and R.&B. overlap often, and influence each other. R.&B. has certainly borrowed a straightforwardness from rap that it didn’t always possess. Consider the different approaches of two R.&B. men: On his 1979 single “Turn Off the Lights,” Teddy Pendergrass asks his lover, “Would you mind if I asked you to?” and proceeds to softly entreat her to come closer. On “No Bullshit,” Chris Brown’s single from 2010, Brown tells his paramour, “You already know what time it is/Reach up in that dresser where them condoms is.”

R&B’s sound is one of willful, defiant humanity. An insistence on the right to stretch out, breathe, rage, make love.

Last August, the artist and music executive Diddy formalized these ambient fears by tweeting, “Who killed R.&B.?” In subsequent conversations, he doubled down on the statement, insisting that the genre’s excellence had been in decline. “I ain’t feeling no emotions,” he said on Instagram, before elaborating on the ways the old songs made the body awaken to all the sensations enfolded in them; the new records were sterile in comparison.

Talk of R.&B.’s demise has been cyclical and insistent since at least 1988, when Nelson George wrote “The Death of Rhythm and Blues,” a book-length exploration of the idea. George supposed that the corporate imperative to cross over — to create songs specifically designed to break on mainstream radio — is how the music lost its way. Diddy’s declaration led to a new round of impassioned debate among R.&B. aficionados and artists. Mary J. Blige weighed in, saying, “You can’t kill something that’s in our DNA.” Yet she conceded that radio stations no longer play R.&B. as frequently as they did in years past. Brent Faiyaz, an emerging R.&B. singer — his second album, “Wasteland,” debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 last summer — insinuated that Diddy was simply out of touch. “Don’t nobody care about music genres anymore,” Faiyaz tweeted, calling them “primitive.”

“All genres of music were routed in R.&B.,” Usher told me when I asked his thoughts on the state of the genre. “That was what started it all, in my opinion. It was more like soulful gospel music that then became jazz, that then became R.&B., and then all these other expressions of rhythm and blues became the next thing.” The sound is one of willful, defiant humanity. An insistence on the right to stretch out, breathe, rage, make love. The records unleash your feelings and your body because they’re freedom cries from a people with a precarious relationship to being free.

In her book “The Meaning of Soul,” the scholar Emily J. Lordi explained that R.&B. singers enacted feats of “virtuosic survivorship” in their performances and recordings. James Brown’s grunts and dramatic drops to the ground; Jackie Wilson’s dive, legs akimbo, onto his knees. The way it seems as if he sprang back up in the blink of an eye. Love men, beginning with Sam Cooke but extending on to Marvin Gaye, Al Green and Teddy Pendergrass, brought an urbane sensuality to the music. It was all a dream. These artists are masters of the sublime and conjure pleasurable fictions that “channel the erotic fantasies of their audience through their words, movement and voice,” George says. “It’s a heavy burden to be the center of so much erotic energy night after night, song after song.” Marvin Gaye “both resented and required” the adoration, his biographer David Ritz wrote in “Divided Soul.” And now, in a post-#MeToo world, the sexual politics of R.&B. — especially given the abuses of R. Kelly, the prolific songsmith and convicted sex trafficker — are under even more scrutiny. Women and girls are often collateral damage. Several R.&B. figures, across generations, including Ike Turner, Chuck Berry, Chris Brown, Trey Songz and Tory Lanez, have been accused or convicted of violent acts against women.

On his podcast, the broadcaster and former rapper Joe Budden spoke with the singer Mario — best known for “Let Me Love You,” a No. 1 single from 2004 — about the fantasy of R.&B. “Writing songs is like shooting movies,” Mario said. “In real life, [expletive] never goes that way. It’s a song. It’s exaggerated.” He continued: “Women want to believe what you’re saying is true.” It’s easy to become swept up in the honeyed sweetness of a classic R.&B. record. We believe so wholeheartedly that romantic love exists. We prioritize this love, imbue it with religious fervor and purpose, centralizing it in the narratives of our lives as if we’re all halves of a perfect pair like Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. As if we’re all heroes on epic quests for the one who will harmonize with us for life. Hip-hop’s realism splits the veil, piercing the romantic reverie as it makes space for the actual complication of being together with another person.

With his two younger children, Sire and Sovereign, who were born to his partner, Jennifer Goicoechea.

Usher has always sold cool, unflappability, a certain kind of perfection (even on a breakup record like “U Don’t Have to Call,” he rises above). The truth is much more interesting. “I’m like an actor, and as an actor I embody a character,” he says. “If I’m instigating sexuality in my music, that might not necessarily have anything to do with who I am as a person.” That statement echoes Mario’s admission from the podcast: “We’re selling energy. We’re selling ideas.” R.&B. comes with a polished sweetness that can sound like lies, false notes. People flock to see Usher in Vegas because they want to believe in the vision of love and romance that lives in the songs he performs there; others may have turned away from these kinds of messages because the ideals are too unbelievable.

R.&B. is nothing if not a marriage of opposing energies. A dance between hard and soft. Real life versus fantasy; vulnerability and force; Holy Ghost and heaving flesh. A thin line between love and hate. Traditional R.&B. men were complicated, and they weren’t always truthful about it. Yet the music’s expansiveness and range — topics like climate change, war and political disappointment were all fair game — gave us a pathway toward understanding the conditions of the day. Some contemporary R.&B. men ceded ground to hip-hop in storytelling about the world and in relaying broad truths. Similarly, Usher exists at the threshold of contradictory ideas. His persona gleams with sheen and shine, but he is often tightly coiled, a bundle of nerves underneath glistening skin.

It was 11:30 on a late-winter night in North Hollywood. The kind of night when lovers toss and turn and palm trees rustle in the moonlight. An unmarked storefront is home to a recording studio built by a son of Hal David, who, with Burt Bacharach, wrote aching, romantic pop ballads for Dionne Warwick.

Usher had just arrived to lay down vocals. He lit a candle, and soon we were inhaling wafts of gardenia. He wondered what I thought about the new songs I’d heard and told me how he kept changing their sequencing. Just as kinetic in real life as he is onstage, he zipped between the cloth-covered control room, where I sat with Anthony Smith, the audio engineer, and the cavernous live room’s booth, which was colder than Usher usually likes it when he records. His new personal assistant, Kojo Littles, hunted down two space heaters in the studio’s spacious lounge. In the control room, the lights were low. Tiffany-style lamps with purple-and-red stained-glass shades and thick velvet tassels cast shadows on the walls.

Before long, Usher was ready to sing. The engineer queued up an up-tempo track with synthy flourishes and staccato lyrics on the demo. A collaboration with the Colombian hitmaker J Balvin, the track sampled Usher’s “Yeah!” On the original, the singer delivered his lead vocal in an anxious frenzy, telling the story of an illicit flirtation in a nightclub. The new rendition elaborates the original by layering dembow rhythms, lyrics about smiling at a new paramour’s advances and a new verse by Usher.

Though Usher was fresh off 12 hours of dance and music rehearsal a half-hour away at a soundstage in Burbank, he was full of energy and ideas about how he would like to be heard. In the booth, he gestured with his hands, closed his eyes. His body sometimes bounced, keeping time with the song’s groove. There was no party in the studio — no flowing libations, no room full of hangers-on. Usher was at work.

He recorded, line by line, bass, baritone and tenor parts — multitracking himself. In industry parlance, he “punched in” his vocals, recording multiple takes of each lyric, listening as the engineer played the takes back to him. Then he rerecorded the parts of each line that he didn’t like. I heard Usher ask Smith, “Let me get that last one again,” at least three dozen times over the next five hours.

Usher is anxious for everything to look good, feel good and smell good. He especially wants the music to sound good. He recorded numerous songs in the years leading up to “Coming Home.” “My creative process is kind of trial and error,” he told me. “I’m always trying to figure out what fits.” To that end, the album’s title has changed several times, going from “Naked” to “A.D.A.M” (a nod to the biblical figure) to “Coming Home,” a reference to reigniting his professional relationships with his producers in Atlanta.

Usher in his pool in Los Angeles. “I’m like an actor,” he says. “As an actor I embody a character.”

When we spoke on the phone, Marvin Gaye’s biographer David Ritz told me he felt hopeful about R.&B. as a lasting mode of Black expression. “The roots are deep, deep, deep in the ground. It celebrates vocal virtuosity, it celebrates groove. It’s all spirit, it’s all church and worship. If you’re praising a woman or praising God, you’re still praising.” And other signs point to the genre itself experiencing a renaissance, alongside Usher’s. According to Spotify, streaming numbers for R.&B. are up 25 percent from last year. Women like Jazmine Sullivan, Ari Lennox and Summer Walker write honest and sensual songs that provide counterpoint and balance the punishing sexual politics that have made listening to some of the old records fraught.

Usher’s new music will most likely continue his forays into new forms — one of the best among the songs I heard was laced with the rhythmic propulsion of Afrobeats. But fundamentally, he told me, “my music offering will always be routed in R.&B.” I wonder if he’ll let some of his imperfections show. Audiences want more honesty, more “confessing.” When the album was still called “A.D.A.M,” it was inspired by the temptations and ups and downs of human life. Usher related the themes of the project to the challenges of his own stardom. “I’ve been designated to do something, to be on my best behavior and be perfect,” Usher admits. “You gonna go through [expletive],” he says, of the impossibility of perfection in this world. “As you work through that, what’s the result? It’s in the music. That journey is in the music.”

In the booth, he traced the air with his fingers; he seemed to find the harmonies he would sing with his hands. He wouldn’t be able to record as much when he got to Vegas, he said, when he would need to balance the nightly performance schedule with preserving his voice. The hour crept closer to dawn, and still Usher remained in the booth, working and reworking his lines.

Danielle Amir Jackson is a writer based in Little Rock, Ark., and the editor in chief of The Oxford American. She is writing a book for Farrar, Straus and Giroux about her grandmother’s restaurant in North Memphis and the role of women-owned juke joints in the incubation of the blues.