R. Kelly’s Former Backup Singer Claims He Had Sex With Underaged Aaliyah
In the first of six episodes, set to air Thursday, Jan. 3, Jovante Cunningham recalled witnessing several encounters between Kelly, 51, and underaged girls in the '90s, People reported. Among them, according to Cunningham, was his one-time protégée Aaliyah Haughton who died in a plane crash in 2001.
"Aaliyah [was] very tom-boyish, glasses, braces, no swag," Cunningham said of the then 12-year-old, who met Kelly through her uncle, Barry Hankerson. "She truly was a beautiful young lady. We used to sneak Aaliyah out of the hotel room and take her all over the place."
Cunningham said during her interview that after meeting Aaliyah, Kelly began a sexual relationship with her. She was 15 at that time.
"We were out on the road with Aaliyah," she shared. "On a tour bus, there really aren't many confined spaces. When you get on the bus there are bunks and so these bunks have little curtains you can pull at night if you don't want anybody to see you sleeping."
She continued, "So it just so happened we were all laying in our bunks and the curtains are open, everybody's communicating, laughing. When the [room] door flew open on the bus. Robert was having sex with Aaliyah."
Asked what, exactly, she witnessed, Cunningham said: "Things that an adult should not be doing with a child."
"I can't stress to you how people are still suffering behind things that went on 20 years ago," she added.
With Aaliyah's help, Kelly penned the single, "Age Ain't Nothing But a Number." Cunningham reflected on that time period, saying it made her sad.
"Those were the good old days," she said. "but those are the things that also make you cry."
In 1994, numerous outlets reported that Kelly and Aaliyah secretly married. A marriage certificate began circulating, listing Aaliyah's age as 18, though she would have only been 15 at the time. Neither Kelly nor Aaliyah ever addressed the rumors, but a former personal assistant did agree to appear in Surviving R. Kelly, and claimed to have been present at the wedding.
"Robert came to me, we were in Miami," Demetrius Smith, who once worked for Kelly, said. "Robert said, 'Man we got Aaliyah in trouble.'"
He went on, "Robert mentioned to me that 'I think she's pregnant.' That broke my heart right there because I really believed him when he said that he wasn't messing with Aaliyah...Once he told me that I was at a loss for words."
Smith said he "was in the room when they got married." He added that he was "not proud" of that fact.
"I had papers forged for them when Aaliyah was underaged. It was just a quick little ceremony, she didn't have on a white dress he didn't have on a tux. Just every day where. She looked worried and scared," he shared.
The marriage was later annulled, according to Smith's account.
"Her parents had the last say," he said.
Kelly was indicted in 2002 after a video surfaced seemingly showing a man engaging in sex with a woman whom witnesses claimed was 14 at the time. Both Kelly and the woman in the video denied that it was them in the clip and he was never charged with assault. In 2008 he was found not guilty on 21 counts of child pornography.
In July 2017, a report from Buzzfeed alleged that Kelly kept at least six women captive in his Chicago and Georgia homes, forcing them to fulfill his sexual desires or be punished. He's said to have set strict "rules" for the women and kept them from their friends and families. No formal charges were filed.