There was a time, somewhere in the 90s, when even Kenyette Barnes was a fan of R. Kelly.
Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, a younger Barnes grooved to the sounds of the R&B artist nominated for 25 Grammys. But that was decades before BuzzFeed would publish a story claiming he held young women against their will in a house in Johns Creek; allegations which Kelly, his representatives and attorneys have vehemently denied.
“I’m 46, so I’m old enough to remember (Kelly’s) entire career,” Barnes said Thursday. “... I remember listening to his music and believing that I could fly and stepping in the name of love. Who hasn’t had a private moment with ‘Bump N’ Grind’ if you’re over the age of 40?”
Now a resident of Atlanta, Barnes is the furthest a person can get from being a fan. With Oronike Odeleye, she co-founded the #MuteRKelly campaign and has been petitioning Live Nation to cancel the 50-year-old singer’s concerts.
The petition has more than 36,000 signatures online. Since #MuteRKelly began and since the first BuzzFeed story reported by Jim DeRogatis was published in July, four of Kelly’s shows on his “After Party” tour have been cancelled.
But his Atlanta show will go on as scheduled, despite a letter from Fulton County Commissioners urging Live Nation to cancel Kelly’s show set for 8 p.m. at the Wolf Creek Amphitheatre on Friday.
Two decades ago, Barnes might have been in line to see Kelly. On Friday, she’ll be one of possibly many people actively trying to silence him. Barnes and other local activists are planning a large protest of Kelly’s Atlanta concert, and will be outside of Wolf Creek hours before it begins.
“This has extended over decades and it always involves the same demographics of young, disempowered, black girls,” said Barnes. “... It is infuriating that Live Nation has made this decision. Unfortunately, our only recourse now is to exercise our First Amendment right.”
Akeasha Branch, an employee of Live Nation and the general manager of Wolf Creek, did not immediately respond to multiple requests for comment on Thursday. A spokesman with the Fulton County of Office of External Affairs said the county did not receive a response to the letter it sent to Live Nation on Aug. 3.
John Eaves, the former Fulton County Chairman who resigned this week so he could qualify for Atlanta’s mayoral race, held a press conference two weeks ago, urging Live Nation to cancel the concert. He also insisted that the county district attorney pursue charges against Kelly.
On Thursday, a spokesman from the DA’s office said it was “still reviewing the file” on Kelly it received from Johns Creeks police on Aug.7.
Barnes said she invited Eaves and other elected officials to the protest outside of Wolf Creek on Friday. A spokeswoman with Eaves’ mayoral campaign said “he isn’t sure” if he will participate.
Protestors will begin to arrive at the amphitheater around 5:30 p.m. on Friday, in hopes of being seen by Kelly’s tour bus and entourage, she said.
“I think (Kelly’s) message is problematic on several levels,” said Barnes, whose own past as a survivor of child pornography she said fueled her opposition to Kelly.
As a child model in Cleveland, Barnes said at age 17 she went to a photo shoot where the photographer coerced her into posing nude and in “very sexually provocative” poses. She says she never received copies of the photos and doesn’t remember the photographer’s name. Barnes finally told her parents about the incident last month.
“I believe it’s time to have a larger conversation about how we handle situations about sex trafficking,” she said.
In 2008, Kelly was acquitted on 14 charges of making child pornography. In April, a lawsuit was filed against Kelly in Illinois for having an affair with the wife of a police officer. The BuzzFeed story says several other civil lawsuits against Kelly have been settled out of court with cash payments. In a 2016 interview with GQ, Kelly claimed he was sexually abused by a family member as a child.
Throughout his career Kelly has worked with artists like Lady Gaga, Rick Ross, Mariah Carey, Chris Brown and Justin Bieber. As recently as December 2016, he appeared on “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon.
The BuzzFeed story cites several named and unnamed sources and reports that Kelly holds women in a “cult,” and the women are forbidden to contact their families, must call Kelly “Daddy”, and their sexual encounters with him are filmed.
Tim and Jonjelyn Savage, the parents of Joycelyn Savage, a 22-year-old Atlanta woman featured in the first BuzzFeed story, will also attend the protest, Barnes said. Their daughter, Joycelyn Savage, has since said to TMZ that she is fine and in “a happy place.”
Barnes is working with activists in Pelham, Alabama and Memphis, Tennessee to organize protests at those concerts too. Kelly plays shows in those cities on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
Earlier this week, BuzzFeed published a second article from DeRogatis that tells the story of Jerhonda Pace. Now a 24-year-old mother, Pace says she began a sexual relationship with Kelly when she was a teenager and endured mental and physical abuse from him. In the story, Pace is quoted saying Kelly reminds her of Charles Manson.
Kelly and his camp have also denied Pace’s claims.
MORE ON R. KELLY FROM THE AJC...
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.