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Artist Usher performs at Dalewood Middle School, his former school, on Friday, Sept. 9, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The concert concluded a string of activities and benefits by the artist in his home town.

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USHHEERRRRR YEAHHHHHHH

As the lights brightened and the people on the other side of the fence shrieked, LaQunda Kendricks pressed her mint green Chuck Taylors on top of a guardrail, lifted herself a couple feet higher off the ground and wrapped her right arm around the streetlight for balance.

She craned her neck. Then, she looked back at her friends.

"He's here!" she said.

A couple hundred feet away, on a stage erected this week for a super secret concert that most people in town found out about by Tuesday, R&B singer Usher strutted toward the crowd.

"Yeah!" he yelled. "Yeah! How y'all feeling tonight? We come together because we're stronger together."

Usher, a Chattanooga native, then performed "Oh My God," his 2010 hit. The crowd hollered. He then talked about how he misses Chattanooga. And the crowd hollered more. Then he said something about loving home cooking. And the crowd hollered more.

Friday night's concert was closed to the general public, which meant nobody could buy a ticket. But people around town received red wristbands letting them into the concert when they donated art supplies for Hamilton County Schools.

The concert was sponsored by State Farm and is part of a documentary series about musicians coming home. The stage was set at Dalewood Middle School, where Usher matriculated before moving to Atlanta as a teenager to launch a lucrative career singing about love and nights spent at the club.

Before the concert, Usher spent Thursday at Studio Everything, an art space on Glass Street. He spent about two hours there, talking to students about their creative projects. On his social media pages, he urged people in town to donate to art programs.

On Friday night, even with the football field off limits, hundreds gathered in the neighborhood around the school to catch the concert. That included Kendricks, 24, a Chattanooga native. She couldn't see on stage too well, but she could watch the jumbo screens. And more importantly, she could hear him.

Kendricks has been an Usher fan "like, I don't know, all my life." He's the perfect man: smooth, charming, romantic, gorgeous. And he's from her town, which is cool — not that it matters too much.

"He could be from the moon," she said, smiling. "I'm still going to support his music."

Down the block, a group sat on folding chairs on a front lawn. Ed Hammonds, 66, knew people were going to be flooding the neighborhood when he found out about the concert earlier this week. First, when he saw the big trailers on the football field, he thought some construction workers were building a track for the students or something.

But then people mentioned Usher — Usher Raymond IV, really. Hammonds has known the singer's family for years. Usher's grandma and great grandma on his dad's side were patrons of Hammonds' church. But he didn't know about Usher until most of the other people in the country did, when his songs hit the radio in the 1990s.

So, Hammonds roped off the yard with some caution tape, propped up some plastic chairs and offered people to catch the concert from the yard, "for a small fee." It's just as good as sitting in the back row of a concert at a stadium, he said.

Hammonds, 66, is glad Usher came home. He hopes he will come more often. He's an inspiration to kids in town, kids who don't often see examples of success. You can teach a kid about great historical figures, Hammonds said, but that doesn't motivate a child as much as watching someone like Usher move from your neighborhood to the Grammys.

"It all began here," Hammonds said. "It didn't begin in Atlanta. You need to sit back and see: If not for my hometown, where I learned my craft, where would I be?"

Contact Staff Writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.

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