R. Kelly headlines another festival—and prompts another controversy | WBEZ
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Jim DeRogatis

R. Kelly headlines another festival—and prompts another controversy

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R. Kelly, the ever-controversial “Pied Piper of R&B,” has been booked to headline another major regional music fest—the Free Press Summer Festival in Houston—and he’s being met by another controversy as members of the local music community protest his inclusion atop the early-June bill.

As The Chicago Sun-Times documented over a decade of reporting, and as WBEZ recapped when Kelly was tapped to headline the Pitchfork Music Festival two summers ago, the superstar singer and producer consistently abused his position of wealth and fame to pursue illegal sexual relationships with underage girls, leaving dozens of ruined lives in this city’s African-American community.

Kelly was acquitted in 2008 in a case that focused on narrow charges of making child pornography, but “not guilty” doesn’t mean “innocent,” and the controversy over dozens of civil lawsuits filed by underage girls lingers.

Part of an attempt to salvage his career by reaching out to a young, mostly white, and vaguely “alternative” audience, Kelly’s performances at Pitchfork, Bonnaroo, and Coachella in the summer of 2013 caused little controversy. However, after Chicago music journalist Jessica Hopper questioned this blogger about the ramifications of cosigning Kelly’s music if one hates Kelly’s misdeeds in a Village Voice article that went viral that December, many music lovers began to rethink their positions on the artist, as well as on others such as Woody Allen and Bill Cosby.

Last July, when Kelly was booked to headline the Fashion Meets Music Festival in Columbus, the Ohio music community rose up in opposition and eventually forced the promoters to cancel his appearance. Some Texans are hoping the sponsors of the Houston fest, a monthly alternative print publication and Website, will do the same.

Girls Rock Camp Houston is leading the attack, which includes a Facebook page and the petition posted below. Response on Twitter and other forums has been considerable, and opponents already have met with the promoters once, reporting that “the lines of dialog are open and ongoing.” Their cause also is garnering local media attention from rival publications Hustonia and Houston Press.

According to the activists’ petition, Kelly is “a pedophile indicted on 21 counts of child pornography [who] has filmed video footage of himself engaging in sexual acts with underage girls—teenage girls he would prey on outside of their gospel choir class at Kenwood Academy in Chicago—leaving long lasting emotional and psychological trauma… The girls of Chicago are the girls of Houston, and they matter… R. Kelly should not be able to continue to profit from performances that glorify his persona of sexual predator.”

The promoters response to date? Free Press publisher Omar Afra told Houstonia, “ “We’re pretty much in the listening stage right now. We never preclude dialogue. If somebody’s got a concern, we’re here to hear that.”

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