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The Allegations Against R. Kelly: An Abridged History

R. Kelly attends a show at New York Fashion Week in July 2015. Through years of sex misconduct accusations, he has denied committing any wrongdoing.
R. Kelly attends a show at New York Fashion Week in July 2015. Through years of sex misconduct accusations, he has denied committing any wrongdoing.

Updated Jan. 23 at 12:22 p.m. ET

R. Kelly is no stranger to unsettling allegations.

The R&B superstar born Robert Kelly has ushered in the new year dogged by a slew of damaging headlines — in this case, prompted by TV's Surviving R. Kelly. But the roots of the broad case laid out by the six-part Lifetime docuseries, filled as it is with claims of abuse and statutory rape, date back about a quarter-century at least.

Kelly has been the subject of investigations, indictments, lawsuits and disavowals — and through it all, he has asserted that he did not commit any wrongdoing.

What follows is an attempt to explain how 25 years of controversy led to this moment. Not every notable date is included in this timeline. In particular, the many lawsuits against Kelly — beginning in the mid-1990s and continuing through the present day — have been left out for the sake of clarity.

Jump to the story behind a specific date by clicking it in the list below, or simply scroll down to begin at the beginning.

Aug. 31, 1994

R. Kelly, then 27 years old, briefly marries Aaliyah, then 15

The secret ceremony in Chicago comes less than a year after R. Kelly's debut solo album landed in the Billboard 200 — and less than six months after Kelly produced Aaliyah's debut album, Age Ain't Nothing but a Number.

That title would prove apt: As the magazine Vibe revealed just months later, the official Illinois wedding certificate falsified Aaliyah's age, listing Kelly's young protégée as 18. (Demetrius Smith, a former tour manager and personal assistant to R. Kelly, later told the Surviving R. Kelly team that he had documents forged for the two and that Aaliyah appeared to be scared at the ceremony.)

Within months, the marriage is annulled, but it remains a subject of frequent questions — both for Aaliyah, who died in a plane crash in 2001, and for Kelly, who has described their relationship as "deep friends" but avoided commenting further.

"Well, because of Aaliyah's passing, as I've always said, out of respect for her mother who's sick and her father who's passed, I will never have that conversation with anyone. Out of respect for Aaliyah, and her mother and father who has asked me not to personally," he told GQ in 2016. "But I can tell you I loved her, I can tell you she loved me, we was very close."

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Dec. 21, 2000

R. Kelly performs at the Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards in September 2000, just three months before the Chicago Sun-Times' first article in what would become its nearly two decades (and counting) of coverage on the allegations. (ImageDirect/Getty Images)

Chicago Sun-Times prints the first allegations of sex with minors

The singer is about to turn 33 when Sun-Times reporters Jim DeRogatis and Abdon M. Pallasch publish a story alleging that Kelly was using his fame to meet girls as young as 15 years old and then coerce them into having sex with him. At least two of those girls say that they met him at Kenwood Academy, a public high school on Chicago's South Side that Kelly had attended before dropping out and where he is alleged to have returned again and again to pick up young women.

According to the Sun-Times, by this point, Chicago police have investigated Kelly twice on suspicion of having sex with an underage girl but dropped the investigations because the girl would not cooperate. The article also notes, "Kelly is hardly the first celebrity to be accused of taking advantage of underage girls. Gary Glitter, Rob Lowe, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roman Polanski, Rolling Stone Bill Wyman and even the legendary Errol Flynn all have been written about in this paper and others for allegedly having trysts with minors."

The Sun-Times report is published within weeks of Kelly — who has already sold more than 20 million albums — releasing his fifth album,, which goes to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart.

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Feb. 8, 2002

R. Kelly performs at the opening ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. That very same day, Feb. 8, Chicago police revealed their investigation into allegations that the singer had filmed himself having sexual relations with an underage girl. (Getty Images)

Chicago police reveal investigation into alleged child pornography

Draped in a star-spangled robe, surrounded by tens of thousands of screaming fans, R. Kelly appears to be hitting a high note in his career: performing as part of the opening ceremony for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

The very same day, more than 1,000 miles away, things begin heading in a very different direction for the singer, as Chicago police reveal they have opened an investigation into an approximately 3-year-old videotape that purports to show him having sex and engaging in a variety of lewd acts with an underage girl. (Despite the alleged age of the girl in the video, Kelly would not be charged with statutory rape.)

Kelly quickly and vehemently denies that it is him in the video, which appears to show him with a girl who would have been in her early teens at the time of the filming. The video had been sent anonymously to the Chicago Sun-Times, which had published child sex allegations against the singer nearly two years earlier.

"It's crap, and that's how we're going to treat it," Kelly says in an interview held with a local TV station held before his Olympic performance.

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June 5, 2002

Kelly indicted on 21 counts of child pornography

Just four months after the police probe is revealed, R. Kelly finds himself in handcuffs outside his holiday home in Florida.

A grand jury in Cook County, Ill., has indicted Kelly on 21 counts of child pornography related to the videotape. The charges include seven counts each of directing the taping, producing the video and enticing the underage girl into performing illicit acts.

"Sexual predators are a scourge on society," Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine says in a statement released on June 5. "This indictment should send a clear message that illicit acts with minor children will not be tolerated in the community."

One day later, Kelly is formally charged in a Florida courtroom.

That state would also charge Kelly with an additional 12 counts of creating child pornography, alleging that during his arrest, police found a camera with new images showing sex with an underage girl. Those charges would be dropped after a judge found that the camera was improperly seized. Seven of the original 21 charges in Chicago would also eventually be dropped in 2004, after prosecutors acknowledged those counts pertained to a law that wasn't passed until after the alleged taping.

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May 9, 2008

An artist's rendering shows R. Kelly watching in court as prosecutors play the sex tape at the center of his 2008 child pornography trial in Chicago, just hours after opening statements in which they accused the R&B singer of choreographing and starring in the footage with an underage girl. (AP)

Trial begins in Kelly's case in Chicago

After posting bail in 2002, Kelly spends the next six years continuing to perform as his lawyers wrangle with prosecutors on his behalf. During this stretch, he continues headlining tour stops and recording new music — even snagging six Grammy nominations. More than half a decade passes before his trial begins.

"The case has dragged on for seemingly bizarre reasons," Time magazine reporter Steven Gray explained to NPR in 2008. "Just last December, R. Kelly failed to make a scheduled court appearance because his tour bus was stopped speeding by Utah authorities, and he couldn't make it to court the next day. One time, Judge Gaughan, the presiding judge, he fell off a ladder and hurt himself so he was out for a while. Another time, one of the prosecutors had a baby, so that also caused some postponement."

The trial begins in late spring. If convicted on all charges, Kelly faces the prospect of 15 years in prison.

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June 13, 2008

R. Kelly leaves the Cook County Criminal Court in Chicago on June 13, 2008, greeting supporters and onlookers after a jury found him not guilty on all counts in his child porn trial. (AP)

Kelly is acquitted on all counts

Arguments in court take about three weeks. The defense asserts that it is neither Kelly nor the alleged victim who appear in the tape. Although multiple witnesses identify the young girl on the tape — including family members, friends and a basketball coach — neither the girl nor her parents testify.

"That's another thing that the defense is arguing that, 'Look, this is all about money and extortion. The family never went to the police, and there was an aunt who was a police officer. They went to a lawyer for money,' " WBEZ's Natalie Moore recounts after closing arguments.

The jury spends less than a day in deliberations before returning its verdict: not guilty. Kelly walks out of the Chicago courtroom a free man, sliding silently into his car as supporters cheer around him. (One of his later alleged victims, Jerhonda Pace, says she met the singer at that time, when she was in her mid-teens, having skipped school to support him at court.)

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July 17, 2017

R. Kelly performs at Bass Concert Hall on March 2017 in Austin, Texas. He has kept an ardently loyal fan base in some quarters despite years of allegations. (Gary Miller/Getty Images)

BuzzFeed publishes stories of women in Kelly's alleged "sex cult"

Written by Chicago reporter Jim DeRogatis — who has at this point been working on stories regarding R. Kelly-related allegations for the better part of two decades — the BuzzFeed investigation highlights the anguish of the parents of one young woman, "J." They allege that their daughter, age 19 when she met Kelly, has been drawn into a "cult" of women living with and totally controlled by the singer.

DeRogatis includes corroborative details from three women who knew Kelly well: Cheryl Mack, who worked for about a year and a half as a personal assistant for the singer beginning in 2013, as well as Kitti Jones and Asante McGee, two of Kelly's ex-girlfriends who both lived with Kelly in the alleged "cult."

These three women say that at the time the BuzzFeed article was published, six women lived with Kelly in Chicago and the suburbs of Atlanta, and that Kelly "controls every aspect of their lives: dictating what they eat, how they dress, when they bathe, when they sleep, and how they engage in sexual encounters that he records." Jones also says that Kelly beat her. (Both Jones and McGee later appear in the Surviving R. Kelly docuseries and elaborate upon their earlier allegations. Jones was 33 when she met Kelly; McGee was 35.)

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July 23, 2018

Kelly releases 19-minute song, "I Admit"

He admits nothing.

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Oct. 4, 2018

Kelly's ex-wife accuses him of physical abuse

Andrea Kelly, who met R. Kelly when she was 19, was married to him from 1996 to 2009. She appears on the daytime talk show The View to allege that he abused her physically on multiple occasions, including choking her. She filed for a restraining order in 2005 and alleges that he had hit her when she asked for a divorce. She also says that she considered suicide.

According to Andrea Kelly, she and the singer were already living apart by the time he stood trial in Chicago. She tells The View her impetus to come forward publicly was hearing another woman make allegations on another show — explaining that the woman seemed to be speaking about her ex-husband without using his name, as the accusations seemed to mirror her own history with Kelly: "Some of the specific things she described in detail, I had been through, I mean, verbatim." (Andrea Kelly also appears in Surviving R. Kelly.)

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Jan. 3, 2019

Kitti Jones, a former girlfriend of the singer, tells her story in Surviving R. Kelly. Jones discussed her allegations in an interview with Rolling Stone in October 2017. (Courtesy of Lifetime)

Lifetime begins airing Surviving R. Kelly docuseries

Building on the reporting done by DeRogatis and others, producers of the Surviving R. Kelly docuseries speak to more than 50 people — including two of Kelly's siblings, his ex-wife, former employees and mentees, journalists, psychologists and several of his accusers — in a survey of allegations against Kelly dating back to the early 1990s. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans writes, "All of the women who say in the docuseries that they were abused by Kelly have previously made public allegations against the singer, but Surviving R. Kelly's power comes in hearing their stories told on camera, and all together."

In early December, about a month before the series begins airing, a preview screening of the program and panel discussion featuring several of Kelly's accusers in Manhattan is evacuated after multiple anonymous threats are called in to the venue.

Chance the Rapper appears in the series' final episode and apologizes for having worked with R. Kelly on multiple occasions in recent years, despite the common knowledge of the accusations against the singer. After the series begins airing, Chance elaborates on Twitter: "The truth is any of us who ever ignored the R Kelly stories, or ever believed he was being setup/attacked by the system (as black men often are) were doing so at the detriment of black women and girls. I apologize to all of his survivors for working with him and for taking this long to speak out."

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After Surviving R. Kelly

A demonstrator holds up a sign at a protest outside the singer's Chicago studio in January 2019, just days after the start of the Lifetime docuseries Surviving R. Kelly. (Getty Images)

Public pressure continues to mount against Kelly, though he has kept an ardently loyal fan base in some quarters. He has upcoming performance dates scheduled; his music is still played on radio stations and appears on streaming services; and he maintains his recording deal with RCA Records, which is owned by Sony Music Entertainment.

On Jan. 8, Kim Foxx, the state's attorney of Cook County in Illinois, holds a press conference to ask possible victims of domestic violence or sexual assault by the singer to come forward so that her office can start an investigation. CBS2 in Chicago reports that Foxx says of the series, "I was sickened by the allegations. I was sickened as a survivor. I was sickened as a mother. I'm sickened as a prosecutor." (Additionally, there are unconfirmed reports that Fulton County in Georgia is opening its own investigation.)

On Jan. 9, activists gather outside Kelly's Chicago studio to protest and urge prosecutors to investigate the singer in the wake of Surviving R. Kelly.

Also this week, the Chicago Sun-Times reports that at least two women have contacted Foxx's office with complaints regarding Kelly since she made her appeal. Pop star Lady Gaga publicly apologizes via Twitter for having made a 2013 duet with R. Kelly, called "Do What U Want" (the chorus goes, "Do what you want with my body"). She writes, in part:

"I stand behind these women [in the docuseries] 1000% percent. ... As a victim of sexual assault myself, I made both the song and video at a dark time in my life, my intention was to create something extremely defiant and provocative because I was angry and still hadn't processed the trauma that had occurred in my own life. ... I think it's clear how explicitly twisted my thinking was at the time."

On Jan. 10, Kelly's estranged daughter, Buku Abi (whose given name is Joann Kelly) posts a lengthy note to her Instagram stories responding to the docuseries, in which she calls her father a "monster."

"Devastated is an understatement for all that I feel currently," she writes in part. "I pray for all the families & woman [sic] who have been affected by my father's actions. ... It has been years since my siblings and I have seen and or have spoken to him. ... My mother, siblings, and I would never condone, support or be apart [sic] of ANYTHING negative he has done and or continues to do in his life. Going through all I have gone through in my life, I would never want anyone to feel the pain I have felt. .. The same monster you all confronting [sic] me about is my father. I am well aware of who and what he is."

Buku Abi's Instagram story denounces her father, R. Kelly, calling him a monster. (Instagram)

On Jan. 14, alleged victim Faith Rodgers appears at a press conference in New York City, saying that Kelly threatened to retaliate against her after she filed a civil suit against him in New York Supreme Court. Those retaliations, according to Rodgers, included him sharing private photos of her and saying that he would bring forward 10 male witnesses to testify "about her sex life."

(Distributed by Gloria Allred)

Attorney Lydia Hills, who represents Rodgers, says at the press conference that, attached to a notarized and signed letter Kelly sent to her in response to the suit were several photos of Rodgers and text "which indicated that if Ms. Rodgers proceeded with the lawsuit, these photos would be made public."

Within the body of the letter, which is dated Oct. 22, 2018, Kelly writes in part: "My law team is prepared to request ... 10 personal male witnesses testifying under oath about her sex life."

After Rodgers appears on Surviving R. Kelly, photos of Rodgers and another young woman appear on a Facebook page defending Kelly called "Surviving Lies." (Facebook pulled the page down within hours, saying that it violated the company's community standards.) Hills says that the images posted to Facebook were the same as the ones attached to Kelly's October letter.

At the press conference, the 21-year-old Rodgers says she will not be intimidated. "No women should be victim-shamed, harassed or retaliated against because she asserted her rights and spoke her truth," she declares.

Rodgers is now being represented by attorney Gloria Allred, who is also representing two other women who allege that they were victims of Kelly — one of whom was underage at the time of the alleged abuse. Allred adds that Rodgers will be speaking with the New York Police Department on Jan. 14, who, the lawyer says, are conducting an investigation into the singer.

On Jan. 16, protesters gather in New York City at the offices of RCA Records and Sony Music Entertainment (RCA's corporate owner), to deliver what they say are over 217,000 signatures on a petition asking the label to drop Kelly. RCA does not respond to NPR's request for comment.

On the morning of Jan. 18, Henry James Mason, a man described as Kelly's manager (and who, in previous correspondence with NPR, identified himself as "J Mason,"), turns himself in to the sheriff's office in Henry County, Georgia. It is not known whether Mason is still acting as Kelly's representative.

A warrant against Mason had been issued six months ago on the charge of making terroristic threats and acts against Timothy Savage, the father of Joycelyn Savage, a woman who is believed to be living with Kelly. Savage's parents have publicly accused the singer of abusing their daughter, including within the Surviving R. Kelly series. In a May 2017 video interview with TMZ, Joycelyn Savage stated, "I'm in a happy place with my life ... I'm not being brainwashed or anything like that."

Also on Jan. 18, NBC News announces that it will be airing an interview Friday evening with one of Kelly's accusers, a woman named Tracy Sampson, who says that Kelly began abusing her in 1999, when she was 16 years old and an intern at Epic Records, a label which, like RCA, is a subsidiary of Sony.

Sampson has come forward previously with her allegations; in a May 2018 interview with the Washington Post, she said that she had filed a lawsuit against him in 2002, and that it was settled for $250,000. According to the Post, Sampson tried to cultivate a career afterwards in artist management, but, the newspaper wrote, she "gave up because she was told her dispute with Kelly had poisoned her reputation."

Speaking to NBC, an attorney for Kelly, Steven Greenberg, denies any wrongdoing with Sampson or any other women.

On Jan. 22, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Patrice Ball-Reed limits R. Kelly's access to a Chicago warehouse he has rented, ordering that it can only be used between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. — and only for the purposes of recording music.

The order comes in response to a 15-page complaint filed by city attorneys, who allege that the place violates dozens of building code ordinances — including illegal alterations and the failure to provide necessary fire protection.

The order also stipulates that Kelly and others are barred from using the second floor until further notice, after attorneys allege the owners' failure "to maintain interior stairway system in safe condition and sound repair."

Correction: January 11, 2019 12:00 am — A caption on an earlier version of this story said Kitti Jones first spoke about allegations against R. Kelly in an October 2018 Rolling Stone story. She had been interviewed on the allegations for a July 2017 BuzzFeed article. And the interview with Rolling Stone appeared in October 2017.

Copyright NPR 2019.


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