Through nearly a quarter of a century as a professional music journalist and critic, I have spent more time listening to, thinking about, and wrestling with the music of R. Kelly than with any other artist—and not only because he is the most important voice in R&B of his generation and one of the most successful artists Chicago ever has produced.
My role in Kelly’s story is well-known: After a series of investigative reports about what The Chicago Sun-Times called Kelly’s pattern of abusing his wealth and fame to pursue illegal sexual relationships with underage women, an anonymous source left a nearly 30-minute videotape in my mailbox that resulted in Kelly being indicted on charges of making child pornography.
Kelly ultimately was acquitted of those charges. But the Sun-Times’ reporting never was challenged, and it detailed accusations from numerous victims, some of whom filed civil lawsuits against the star that he silenced with cash settlements.
Despite my familiarity with the artist and his music, and contrary to what some might think, I am left with more questions than answers, the biggest of which resonate beyond the specifics of this musician and his work, striking at the very nature of the relationship between art and admirer:
As noted earlier, I don’t have the answers to these questions. But I know that they need to be addressed.
To that end, and with the help of my WBEZ colleagues Andrew Gill, Tricia Bobeda, Tim Akimoff, and Alyssa Edes, I set out to conduct a series of interviews with passionate thinkers about music and culture representing a variety of viewpoints, personal and professional. These include:
After all of these chats, Bobeda and Gill still had questions of their own about my role in the Kelly story, so I submitted to the same sort of video interview with them.
Unfortunately, Pitchfork Webzine founder and owner Ryan Schreiber and Pitchfork Music Festival promoter Mike Reed have declined to grant an interview, or to issue any comment on why the festival has booked Kelly.
The invitation to Pitchfork’s powers that be to join this conversation remains an open one.
And what’s more, we want to extend it to you: What do you think about the questions posed above and about R. Kelly headlining the Pitchfork Music Festival?
Join the conversation by leaving comments here and listen to an on-air conversation with Jim DeRogatis on The Morning Shift on July 16 and The Afternoon Shift on July 18. WBEZ will host a live Google Hangout with Jim DeRogatis immediately following The Afternoon Shift conversation that you can join too.