Chart-topper R Kelly is a predator who used his fame to groom then sexually abuse girls, young women and boys, a New York court heard yesterday.
The American R&B star went on trial accused of using his entourage to lure victims over more than two decades.
The singer denies all charges, with his legal team saying the allegations come from ‘disgruntled groupies’.
But a jury was told that several, mostly female, victims — and at least one male — would describe how the star ‘dominated and controlled’ them to satisfy his sexual appetite.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez, prosecuting, said at the start of the trial: ‘This case is not about a celebrity who likes to party a lot. This case is about a predator.
Florida attorney Diane Buerger (R) argues for bail for R&B singer R. Kelly (L) at the Polk County Courthouse on June 6, 2002 in Bartow, Florida
‘What his success and popularity brought him was access, access to girls, boys and young women.’
He was ‘a man who for decades used his fame, his popularity, and a network of people at his disposal to target, groom and exploit young girls, boys and women for his own sexual gratification’.
Victims were selected at Kelly’s concerts, Miss Melendez said, where he ‘had his pick of young fans’. He would then ‘use every trick in the predator handbook’, before keeping them ready for abuse ‘like objects’.
Kelly, 54, is charged with sexual exploitation of a child, kidnapping, forced labour, racketeering and bribery between 1994 and 2018.
He is said to have paid a civil servant for fake ID so he could marry an underage girl, the singer Aaliyah, who was 15, when Kelly was 27.
He faces a possible life sentence if convicted of the most serious counts.
Kelly, dressed in a grey suit, purple tie and glasses, sat silently with his head bowed as the prosecutor said the star would have his staff give backstage passes to his targets, usually girls and young women.
Once he had them alone, Miss Melendez told the jury, he ‘dominated and controlled them physically, sexually and psychologically’. They were ordered to call him ‘Daddy’ and ‘keep their heads down’.
Kelly, dressed in a grey suit, purple tie and glasses, sat silently with his head bowed
Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Cruz Melendez prosecuting, said at the start of the trial: ‘This case is not about a celebrity who likes to party a lot. This case is about a predator.’
People queued outside the Brooklyn federal court to see the start of R Kell’s trial in New York
He would often film and photograph the sex acts he carried out and use the images to blackmail them.
When they resisted his sick demands, she said, the singer ‘exacted cruel and demeaning punishments’ including ‘violent spankings and beatings’.
Kelly groomed victims’ families with promises to help the youngsters’ careers, she said. And he tried to make the girls unattractive to others by forcing them to wear baggy clothes.
His reign of sexual terror was made possible by his devoted entourage, who were eager to fulfil his wishes, Miss Melendez said.
Defence lawyers are set to argue that Kelly’s alleged victims were groupies who made it known they ‘were dying to be with him’ and accused him only years later, when public sentiment shifted against him.
The trial, due to last up to a month, continues.
Kelly faces separate sex-related cases in Illinois and Minnesota, charges he also denies.
Here, Alison Boshoff looks at the greatest music industry scandal since Michael Jackson…
The winner of three Grammy awards and the most successful R&B artist in history, R Kelly has sold more than 75 million records during a wildly successful 30-year career.
His musical stock-in-trade has always been bold sexual suggestion — building on the swagger of earlier artists such as Teddy Pendergrass or Barry White . . . and going much, much further.
How stomach-churning his oeuvre appears now, given the horrifying allegations of sexual assault on underaged girls and the coercive control of numerous young women over decades.
R. Kelly leaves the Leighton Criminal Court Building after a hearing on sexual abuse charges in Chicago, Illinois in this photograph taken on May 7, 2019.
His first hit, She’s Got That Vibe, in 1992, was a hymn of joyous lust. It was succeeded by ever more outrageous innuendo — Ignition, Bump N’ Grind, I Like The Crotch On You and, brace yourself, It Seems Like You’re Ready.
Aside from his mega-hit I Believe I Can Fly, he felt compelled to revisit themes of control on tracks such as I’m A Flirt, Marry The P***y and Pregnant. All of which makes the idea that Kelly was a predator in plain sight difficult to dispel.
Take his relationship with the late singer Aaliyah, who was killed in a plane crash in 2001, aged 22.
They met when she was 12. At 14 she recorded an album called Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number, which centred on the repellent concept of a young girl trying to persuade an older man to have sex with her.
R Kelly and Aaliyah (pictured) married in secret in Chicago in 1994 when she was 15, using a forged ID that claimed she was 18. Kelly was 27 at the time.
R Kelly and Aaliyah met when she was 12. At 14 she recorded an album called Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number, which was written and produced by Kelly.
The album was written and produced by R Kelly.
They secretly married in Chicago in 1994 when she was 15, using a forged ID that claimed she was 18. Kelly was 27 at the time.
Apparently the young singer feared she was pregnant and he wanted to marry her to avoid facing criminal charges. The marriage was later annulled.
Now, 27 years later, accusations are finally being aired in court which see 54-year-old Kelly painted as a manipulative predator who hunted for underage girlfriends at concerts and in shopping malls over a period of years.
He survived a trial in 2008 when he was acquitted of 14 counts of child pornography.
Only now is he facing charges after the horrifying six-hour investigative documentary Surviving R Kelly.
Aired in 2019, so many women and former employees came forward that his record labels dropped him and former musical collaborators, including Lady Gaga, expressed regret that they had ever worked with him.
Kelly has always gone on the attack over the allegations. He infamously wept tears of panic and self-pity during an interview with news anchor Gayle King in which he screamed: ‘Quit playing, I didn’t do this stuff. I’m fighting for my f*****g life! Y’all killing me with this s***!’
Attorney Nicole Blank Becker speaks as her client, singer R. Kelly, attends Brooklyn’s Federal District Court
However, his credibility was badly damaged when he went on to ask: ‘What kind of father, what kind of mother would sell their daughter to a man? How come it was OK for me to see them until they wasn’t getting no money from me?’
Born Robert Sylvester Kelly in Chicago in January 1967, he is one of four children of Joanne, the lead singer in a Baptist choir.
His high school music teacher Lena McLin described visiting his home: ‘It was bare. One table, two chairs. There was no father there . . . and they had very little.’
R. Kelly holds his three Grammy Awards in New York at the 40th annual Grammy Awards on February 24 1998
He began singing in church at the age of eight. He left school unable to read or write, and with a bullet in his shoulder after two boys tried to steal his bike.
Encouraged by his Ms McLin, his sole school success came at the talent contest — he performed a Stevie Wonder song, came first, and left education vowing to make it as a musician.
By the time he was 22, he was famous, thanks to taking part in the talent show Big Break. Already signed to Jive Records, he won the $100,000 first prize and chalked up his first hit that year.
His mother, to whom he was extremely close, died of cancer in 1993, just as he was making his name.
In his 2012 autobiography, Soulacoaster, Kelly said he had been sexually abused as a boy of eight by an older female family member, but had been ‘too afraid and too ashamed’ to tell anyone.
By 1995 he had come into contact with megastar Michael Jackson, then trailing his own disgrace over allegations of paedophilia. Kelly wrote Jacko’s last No. 1 — You Are Not Alone — for him.
His second album, also released in 1995, reached No. 1 in the U.S. and cemented Kelly’s position as ‘the reigning king of pop-soul sex’. There were three platinum hit singles on it.
The following year he released his biggest hit, I Believe I Can Fly, which had been originally intended for the film Space Jam.
There followed duets with Jay-Z and Celine Dion.
R. Kelly arrives for the 2013 American Music Awards at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live in Los Angeles on November 24, 2013
R. Kelly holds two of his six awards as he poses for photographers during the 2001 Billboard Music Awards
From this point, stories started to circulate about Kelly’s behaviour around women. The marriage to Aaliyah — which was originally denied — happened in 1994. Their professional relationship ended a year later.
Six years later, Jim DeRogatis, a Chicago-based music journalist, first reported the allegations of Kelly having sex with underage girls in the Chicago Sun-Times.
He said Kelly had returned to his old school, Kenwood Academy, again and again to pick up underaged girls — allegations that Kelly strongly denied.
DeRogatis said that Chicago police had twice investigated the star, but had dropped the investigations because the girls wouldn’t cooperate.
In 2002 Kelly was arrested on child sex abuse charges, when prosecutors said a video showed him having sex and urinating on a 14-year-old girl.
Kelly said: ‘It’s c**p and that’s how we are going to treat it.’
Although multiple witnesses identified the girl on the tape — including family members, various friends and a basketball coach — neither the girl nor her parents testified.
Kelly was cleared when that case came to court in 2008.
R. Kelly arrives at the Cook County building in Chicago, Ill., for the first day of opening arguments for his child pornography trial on May 20, 2008
In 2017, the stories reared their head again on the news site BuzzFeed, which sensationally claimed there was a ‘cult’ of six women controlled by the singer and living with him in his home in Chicago. It was based on an interview with the parents of one of the women, as well as testimony from two former girlfriends and a personal assistant.
It was said that Kelly dictated what they ate, how they dressed, when they bathed and when they slept, and video-recorded their sexual encounters.
Meanwhile, Kelly’s ex-wife, Andrea, with whom he has three children, went on the American talk show The View to say he had abused her physically numerous times and had choked her.
She had filed for a restraining order in 2005, and their divorce was finalised in 2009.
Halle Calhoun and R Kelly (pictured) dated for more than three years
In 2016, he met model Halle Calhoun, 19, at a concert and they dated for more than three years. She later accused him of assaulting her by throwing her against a wall. He denied this. But pressure was starting to mount. Lady Gaga apologised for her duet with Kelly, and said: ‘I stand behind these women 1,000 per cent. I think it’s clear how explicitly twisted my thinking was at the time.’
Jim DeRogatis, who has gone on to write a book about R Kelly — Soulless: The Case Against R Kelly — says: ‘There were record company people, lawyers, armies of assistants. These people, over 30 years, knew of his behaviour and did nothing, but (the prosecutors) are going for the godfather — the don — and I think they’ve got him dead to rights.’