January 18, 2019
by Colleen McGregor
After facing immense public backlash, Sony Music has dropped Grammy-winning R&B singer R. Kelly, who has been accused of committing sexual abuse against women and underage girls as far back as the 1990s but has not yet been convicted of any such crimes. Kelly has repeatedly denied all allegations against him. According to Variety, Sony Music had been trying to sever ties with Kelly for several weeks, and made it official on January 18, 2019, when the company removed Kelly from its website. Sony has not yet issued a statement about dropping Kelly or the controversy over Kelly. Sony Music is the parent company of RCA Records, Kelly’s longtime record company. Kelly, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, was previously signed to Jive Records, which Sony shuttered in 2011. Jive’s former artists transferred to RCA. Although Kelly will not be releasing new music with RCA/Sony, his back catalog will remain with the record company. His last album with RCA/Sony was “12 Nights of Christmas,” which was released in 2016.
Meanwhile, Henry James Mason, a former manager of R. Kelly, turned himself into authorities on January 18 in Henry County, Georgia, for charges of threatening to kill Timothy Savage, the father of one of Kelly’s alleged victims, as well as threatening to harm members of the Savage family. Mason, who had a warrant out of his arrest since July 2018, has been released on $10,000 bail, according to Variety.
Over the years, Kelly, who is 52, has been the subject of numerous stories of abuse against females, particularly underage girls. In 2008, he was acquitted of child pornography charges in which he was accused of videotaping himself having sex with and urinating on a then-14-year-old girl in 2001. Kelly was arrested for the crime in 2002, after the video was leaked to the public and widely bootlegged. The girl who was identified in the video refused to testify in the trial and denied that she was in the video. Complicating matters, the girl’s father worked for R. Kelly as a guitarist in his band before and after the trial. There were several people who knew the girl who testified at the trial, and most of them said that she was the girl in the video. (Her parents did not testify at the trial.) According to what a few of the jurors later told the media after the trial, the lack of testimony from the alleged victim was the main reason why they came to a “not guilty” verdict.
In 1994, Kelly had an illegal marriage to singer Aaliyah, who was 15 at the time they eloped, but who allegedly lied about her age (saying she was 18) at the time of the marriage ceremony. The marriage, which is on public record, was later annulled in 1995.
In 2017, BuzzFeed reported allegations from numerous people who said that Kelly had brainwashed women into becoming his sex slaves and is controlling them like a cult leader. Later that year, when the #MeToo movement became a major social force, a #MuteRKelly activist group was formed to urge cancellations and boycotting of all things related to R. Kelly. #MuteRKelly has been successful in getting several R. Kelly concerts cancelled. The #MuteRKelly movement led to the BBC Three network in the United Kingdom to do two news investigative specials on R. Kelly in 2018. The parents of the alleged victims who are still living with Kelly, as well as women who used to be sexually involved with Kelly, have also given numerous other media interviews.
However, the most influential tipping point in getting Sony Music to drop R. Kelly seems to be the Lifetime docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly,” which aired from January 3 to January 5, 2019, and included harrowing interviews with numerous women, such as his ex-wife Andrea, who say that R. Kelly physically, sexually and emotionally abused them. Most of the women were under the age of 18 when they began their sexual relationships with R. Kelly, and many of them were also interviewed in the BBC Three specials. The women who lived with Kelly said that he was so abusive that he would often starve them, beat them, and force them to engage in degrading sexual acts. Almost all of the women who were in long-term sexual relationships with Kelly said that he would isolate them from their family and friends, and they were afraid to leave him because he threatened their lives. They also said that he had so much control over them that he dictated when they could eat, use the bathroom, and talk to other people.
“Surviving R. Kelly” also included interviews with R. Kelly’s brothers Carey (who spoke out against him) and Bruce Kelly (who is supportive of R. Kelly and is currently in prison for theft and other charges) and R. Kelly’s former protégée Sparkle, who says her underage niece was in the infamous R. Kelly sex video. Other people who were interviewed included several former business associates (who all confirmed that R. Kelly had sexual relationships with underage girls) and some of the parents who claim that their daughters have been Kelly’s sex slaves. The parents say that because their daughters are adults and have apparently been forced to deny that Kelly abused them, it has been difficult to get authorities to intervene and rescue their daughters. However, “Surviving R. Kelly” did document how Michelle Kramer, one of the mothers of the alleged victims, was able to successfully get her daughter out of R. Kelly’s life.
According to Lifetime, “Surviving R. Kelly” had 1.9 million total viewers, making it Lifetime’s highest-rated new show in two years and highest-rated new unscripted show in three years. “Surviving R. Kelly” was executive produced by dream hampton, Tamara Simmons, Joel Karlsberg and Jesse Daniels for Kreativ Inc. which has a production deal with Bunim/Murray Productions (BMP). Brie Miranda Bryant from Lifetime is also one of the executive producers.
R. Kelly Accusers in “Surviving R. Kelly”
In the wake of “Surviving R. Kelly” and the public outcry for justice to be served, artists such as Lady Gaga and Chance the Rapper removed their collaborations with R. Kelly from streaming and online retail sites, made public apologies for associating with R. Kelly, and voiced their support for the survivors. In addition to having numerous hits as a solo artist (including “I Believe I Can Fly” and “Bump ‘N Grind”), Kelly wrote and/or produced hits for several major stars, including Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Jay-Z. Aaliyah, who died in a plane crash in 2001, started out as one of Kelly’s protégées, but parted ways with him after her first album and their marriage debacle.
The pressure against RCA/Sony to drop R. Kelly began to increase on January 11, when women’s group UltraViolet hired a plane flying to fly an anti-R. Kelly banner over Sony’s offices in Culver City, California. The banner read “RCA/Sony: Drop Sexual Predator R. Kelly.” Then on January 16, multiple advocacy groups organized a protest outside of Sony Music’s New York City headquarters and delivered a petition reportedly signed by more than 217,000 people to get the record company to sever ties with Kelly.