According to a report by Billboard magazine on Friday afternoon, R. Kelly has been dropped by RCA Records. The move comes in the wake of a documentary series called Surviving R. Kelly that aired on Lifetime and cataloged more than 25 years of accusations of sexual and physical abuse made against Kelly by a number of women, including seven who were interviewed on camera.
Kelly, who has long been one of the most prominent performers in R&B, continues to maintain his innocence, but in the weeks since the documentary began airing, protests – many affiliated with the social media hashtag #MuteRKelly — and calls for the label to sever ties with the singer have intensified. On Wednesday, protesters delivered a petition including more than 200,000 signatures asking for RCA and its parent company, Sony Music Entertainment, to drop the singer. While RCA and Sony have not confirmed to NPR that Kelly has been dropped, he was removed early Friday from the label's website.
Kelly's labels stood by him through previous public allegations, including a 2008 trial on charges of child pornography, after he was accused in 2002 of making a video of himself having sex with a girl who was aged 13 or 14 at the time. He was acquitted of all charges. Kelly was signed to Jive Records in 1991. That label was folded by Sony Music into RCA in 2011.
"This is a huge victory for the survivors who came forward, both in Surviving R. Kelly and before, and all young Black women, who are systematically undervalued in our society," said Arisha Hatch, the managing director of campaigns at Color for Change — one of the organizations that has been part of the #MuteRKelly campaign — in a statement released to the press. "This victory belongs to the survivors of his abuse — their brave testimonies played a critical role in pushing RCA to drop R. Kelly."
Since Surviving R. Kelly aired, a prosecutor in Cook County, Ill. made a public appeal for accusers to come forward, and there have been reports from Chicago that prosecutors have received multiple calls. According to a report from The New York Times, a district attorney in Georgia has been conducting interviews with Kelly's alleged victims. Other alleged victims who had already made their allegations publicly — including the women in the Lifetime series — have continued to give interviews. Tracy Sampson, a woman who spoke to The Washington Post in 2018, gave an interview to NBC News' Dateline that will air tonight in which she claims that Kelly began abusing her in 1999 when she was 16 years old. She met him while she was an intern at Epic Records, another label owned by Sony Music Entertainment.
Steven Greenberg, a lawyer for R. Kelly, also spoke to Dateline. He denied that Kelly committed any wrongdoing with Sampson or with any other accuser. In a phone call today, Greenberg told NPR that he was not aware of any current investigations into his client.
Kelly's manager, Henry James Mason, turned himself in to police in Georgia on Friday morning, six months after a warrant for his arrest was issued in Henry County. Mason has been accused of making terroristic threats and acts against Timothy Savage, the father of a young woman named Joycelyn Savage. Timothy and his wife have accused Kelly of abusing their daughter, who they say was brainwashed by the singer and blocked from communicating with her family. In 2017, Joycelyn Savage gave an interview to TMZ in which she said she was happy and not being held against her will.
RCA Records did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
R. Kelly has disappeared from the RCA Records website. Several media outlets are reporting the label has dropped the R&B singer. Now, this follows the Lifetime TV docuseries "Surviving R. Kelly," which catalogued more than 25 years of sexual and physical abuse allegations against Kelly by a number of women. Seven of them were interviewed on camera. NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas joins us to talk about the latest developments. Hey, Anastasia.
ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So start here - R. Kelly says he is innocent. He has always said he's innocent. And up to now his record label stood by him. So what changed today?
TSIOULCAS: Well, I should say first off, Mary Louise, RCA has not confirmed to NPR that Kelly's been dropped, though now it's been reported by Billboard and by The New York Times, as well.
TSIOULCAS: However, it's true that Kelly has, as of this afternoon, been scrubbed from the label's website. And this all comes within two weeks of the Lifetime series airing. And on this - earlier this week, protesters dropped off a petition that included more than 200,000 signatures asking RCA and its parent company, Sony Music Entertainment, to drop R. Kelly. And this all was part of a longer-standing campaign called #MuteRKelly which asked RCA and other companies to sever their ties.
KELLY: Huh. Is there precedent for this, for a label dropping an artist who is, A, as popular as R. Kelly has been and still is in some circles and, B, who hasn't actually been convicted of any crime?
TSIOULCAS: That's right. And Kelly's labels have stood by him, even in 2008, when he was standing on trial for charges of child pornography in which he was accused of having sex with a girl on video aged 13 or 14 at the time. And Kelly was indeed acquitted on those charges. But as far as memory serves, this is the first time I can think of that a musician has been dropped by a major record label because of allegations of immorality or of criminal behavior. And this really could be a watershed moment in the music industry, which historically has turned a blind eye to sexual misconduct allegations. You know, you can look back to Jerry Lee Lewis or Elvis Presley. So this could be a real turning point.
KELLY: Another possibly related development to ask you about, which is R. Kelly's former manager Henry James Mason. He turned himself in to police this morning in Georgia. What is going on with that?
TSIOULCAS: That's right. There was a warrant issued for Mason's arrest. And Mason - it's unclear if he's a former manager or still current manager. A warrant went out six months ago in Henry County, Ga. According to police, Mason made, quote, "terroristic threats," unquote, against Timothy Savage. And Timothy Savage is the father of Joycelyn Savage, who's a young woman who is believed to still be living with Kelly. And both Mr. Savage and his wife have publicly accused the singer of abusing their daughter. And they repeated those allegations on the "Surviving R. Kelly" series. And I should say in May 2017, Joycelyn herself gave an interview to the website TMC saying that she was happy and not being brainwashed.
KELLY: Back to the Lifetime series, which put so much of this in motion, it seems. Have other accusers come forward since that aired?
TSIOULCAS: Well the prosecutor in Cook County, Ill., home to Chicago, where Kelly records and has a residence, made a public appeal for alleged victims to come forward. And people apparently have been calling. And other victims, including the women in "Surviving R. Kelly" have stepped forward to the press and had already done that. They're continuing to do interviews. I should say also that "Dateline" has a show tonight, including - one. And a lawyer for Kelly spoke up and said that Kelly continues to deny the allegations.
KELLY: All right. Thanks so much. That's NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas following the R. Kelly story for us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.