For more than two decades, the R&B singer who performs as R. Kelly has faced allegations of sexually abusing minors.
First there were rumors, and reports of a secret marriage to a teenager. Then there were lawsuits. Then there was an indictment and a high-profile court case in which he was acquitted after years of delay.
Through it all, Robert Kelly, 51, has continued to perform and release albums. But now a grass-roots movement against him appears to be taking its toll.Records and rumors
Mr. Kelly’s first solo album, “12 Play,” was released in 1993 and propelled the singer to fame with chart-topping singles including “Bump N’ Grind” and “Your Body’s Callin.”
In 1994, when Mr. Kelly was 27, he reportedly married Aaliyah Haughton, who was 15 but was listed as 18 on a wedding certificate, according to Vibe Magazine, which published the certificate. The magazine later reported that Ms. Haughton’s parents annulled the union. Ms. Haughton, who performed as Aaliyah, became a popular singer but died in a plane crash in 2001.
And in 1996, Mr. Kelly, then 29, married a dancer, Andrea Lee, who was 22. They divorced in 2009.The lawsuits begin
In December 1996, a lawsuit filed against Mr. Kelly claimed that he had had sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 24, The Chicago Sun-Times reported in 2000.
The reporter and music critic Jim DeRogatis, who worked on that story, never stopped investigating the accusations against Mr. Kelly and has spent years bringing women’s claims against him to light.
In January 1998, Mr. Kelly settled with the woman who had sued him, Tiffany Hawkins, after she gave a long deposition about the alleged abuse in court. The next month, he won three Grammys for his hit single “I Believe I Can Fly.”
In 2001 another lawsuit, filed by Tracy Sampson, accused Mr. Kelly of coercing her into sex when she was 17. The case was also settled out of court.A video, and an indictment
In 2002, a video that appeared to show Mr. Kelly having sex with a teenage girl and urinating in her mouth was sent to Mr. DeRogatis at The Chicago Sun-Times, which reported that the footage was being investigated by the Chicago police.
The same year, The Chicago Tribune and The Sun-Times reported on two more lawsuits: one filed by a woman who claimed she was underage when Mr. Kelly impregnated her and forced her to have an abortion, and another by a woman who said she was videotaped during sex without her knowledge. Both suits were settled.
In June, following a police investigation into the video footage, Mr. Kelly was indicted by a grand jury in Chicago on 21 child pornography counts. He was arrested in Florida, where police found more evidence. (The singer was charged with 12 more counts of child pornography, but those were later dropped.)
Mr. Kelly pleaded not guilty, and for more than five years his case did not make it to trial.
During that time he released albums including “Chocolate Factory,” which included the chart-topping song “Ignition (Remix),” and the gospel-influenced “Happy People/U Saved Me.”A long-delayed trial begins and ends
In May 2008, the trial began. Arguments centered on whether the man shown in the video was indeed Mr. Kelly, and whether the girl’s identity or her age could be verified. The jury decided in June that the girl, who did not testify, could not be identified with certainty, and Mr. Kelly was found not guilty on all counts.
In 2012 he released his autobiography, “Soulacoaster: The Diary of Me,” in which he described his rise to fame. He also wrote — and detailed in a later interview with GQ — that during his childhood, he was regularly sexually abused by an adult woman.
Mr. Kelly performed at Pitchfork Music Festival in 2013, at Lollapalooza in 2014 and at the Soul Train Awards in 2015.The time of #MeToo and #MuteRKelly
In July 2017, a BuzzFeed article by Mr. DeRogatis, “Inside the Pied Piper of R&B’s ‘Cult,’” reported on allegations that the singer was living with several young women and controlling them by taking away their phones, limiting contact with their families and having them abide by restrictive rules.
It was one of a series of reports that put Mr. Kelly in the spotlight again. But this time the #MeToo movement, started by the activist Tarana Burke about a decade earlier, was about to explode after dozens of women had accused the movie producer Harvey Weinstein of sexually harassing or assaulting them.
In recent months a campaign of protests, in person and on social media under the hashtag #MuteRKelly, has been picking up steam. Mr. Kelly is not currently facing criminal charges and has denied the allegations against him, and his team has said it would “vigorously resist this attempted public lynching of a black man who has made extraordinary contributions to our culture.”
A statement from women of color who are members of the Time’s Up campaign called on Mr. Kelly’s music label, RCA Records, and other companies to cut ties with the singer. “The pain we bear is a burden that too many women of color have had to bear for centuries,” the statement said. “The wounds run deep.”
Ms. Burke has voiced her support for #MuteRKelly, too, as have the director Ava DuVernay, the actress Lupita Nyong’o, the singer John Legend and others. Ten concerts have been canceled since last summer, and several people close to the singer, including an assistant, a lawyer and a publicist, have recently parted ways with him.
Spotify announced on Thursday that it would remove Mr. Kelly from its official playlists.
This week, Oronike Odeleye, a founder of the #MuteRKelly campaign, said the movement was “starting to feel like a success.”
Joe Coscarelli contributed reporting.