Kelly, R(obert Sylvester)
- Mark Anthony Neal
(b Chicago, IL, Jan 8, 1967). American R&B singer, writer, producer, and arranger. Kelly was born on the South side of Chicago. Raised, with his three siblings, by a single mother, he was encouraged to pursue a musical career by his high school music teacher and mentor, Lena McLin, who was the chair of the music department at the Kenwood Academy and the niece of the legendary gospel music composer Thomas Dorsey. In high school Kelly formed the group MGM (Musically Gifted Men), which won a $100,000 grand prize on the television talent show Big Break, hosted by Natalie Cole. The group eventually signed with Jive Records, though after creative and financial tensions, three of the members were replaced and the group renamed R. Kelly and Public Announcement. After a moderately successful debut that produced the hit singles “She’s Got That Vibe” and “Honey Love,” Kelly left the group in early 1993 to embark upon a solo career.
Kelly’s debut solo recording 12 Play (1993) immediately established him as an influential figure in contemporary R&B, not only as a performer, but as a producer and arranger. On the strength of the album and its follow-up R. Kelly (1995), Kelly worked with artists such as Changing Faces, Aaliyah, Toni Braxton, Michael Jackson, and Ronald Isley. Kelly contributed the song “I Believe I Can Fly,” which has become a modern standard, to the soundtrack of the animated film Space Jam; it was also included on his 1998 double-disc recording R. Through the first decade of the 21st century, Kelly’s career was dogged with charges of statutory rape, though he was eventually acquitted of all charges in June 2008. Kelly broke new ground in 2005 with the single, “Trapped in the Closet” which became the foundation for a 33-episode telenovela that was broadcast on The Independent Film Channel (IFC).