Born in Chicago in 1967, R. Kelly is a popular American R&B singer-songwriter and record producer best known for his gospel-tinged vocals and highly sexualized lyrics. Lauded as the “King of R&B,” Kelly won three Grammy Awards for his hit “I Believe I Can Fly,” and has more Top 40 hits than any other male solo artist in the 1990s.
Born Robert Sylvester Kelly on January 8, 1967, in Chicago, Illinois, singer-songwriter R. Kelly has enjoyed tremendous success on both the pop and R&B music charts. He has also made headlines with his legal woes. Kelly grew up in a Chicago house project, where he was raised by his single mother, and began singing in his church’s choir as a young child.
One of five children, Kelly was later able to attend Kenwood Academy. There, he was persuaded by his music teacher, Lena McLin, that he truly had a gift for performing. “She’s my second mother,” Kelly later explained to Ebony magazine. “She took me under her wing in high school. She told me I would be a big star.”
After singing on the streets for a time, R. Kelly got his first big break in 1990, when he landed a recording contract with Jive Records. The following year, he released Born into the 90’s with Public Announcement, his back-up group. The album quickly proved to be a hit, featuring two top R&B singles, “Honey Love” and “Slow Dance (Hey Mr. DJ).” Just as quickly as his album shot to success, Kelly became known for his sexually charged lyrics.
In 1993, Kelly continued his meteoric rise with 12 Play, scoring his first No. 1 single on the pop charts with “Bump N’ Grind.” That same year, the singer-songwriter suffered a great personal loss: the death of his mother. He continued to live up to his nickname, “Prince of Pillowtalk,” with the release of R. Kelly, but threw some of his gospel influences into the mix as well.
Lauded as the “King of R&B,” Kelly showed that he could also be the “king of the ballad” with 1996’s “I Believe I Can Fly.” The song, which appeared on the soundtrack for the Michael Jordan movie Space Jam, earned him three Grammy Awards in 1997. Kelly also contributed the song “Gotham City” to the Batman & Robin (1997) soundtrack.
In addition to creating his own music, Kelly worked with such artists as Gladys Knight, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson, for whom Kelly penned the 1995 chart-topper “You Are Not Alone.” Working as her producer, Kelly helped teenaged singer Aaliyah with her 1994 album, Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number. The pair became romantically involved, despite Kelly being nearly 12 years her senior, and were even married briefly, but her family had the union dissolved. Aaliyah had lied on the marriage certificate, claiming to be 18 years old when was only 15. Not long after, in 1996, Kelly married dancer Andrea Lee. The couple had three children together before divorcing in 2009.
Kelly remained an impressive force in the world of R&B and pop music. His 1998 album, R., featuring a duet with Celine Dion entitled “I’m Your Angel,” sold more than 7 million copies. He had other successful collaborations around this time, as well: He and Sean “Puffy” Combs made the charts with “Satisfy You” in 1999, and two years later, Kelly joined with Jay-Z to create another Top 10 hit, “Fiesta.”