A backing singer who worked alongside R. Kelly in the 1990s has come forward with disturbing new allegations about the performer, including a claim that she and several others witnessed him having sex with his 15-year-old protege Aaliyah on a tour bus.
Jovante Cunningham, who appears in the first episode of the upcoming documentary series Surviving R. Kelly, claims that Kelly had sexual encounters with a number of underage girls in his ’90s heyday, including Aaliyah.
“She truly was a beautiful young lady,” Cunningham said of the singer. “We used to sneak [her] out of the hotel room and take her all over the place. Those were the good old days, but those are the things that also make you cry.” She said of the incident in question:
“We were out on the road with Aaliyah. On a tour bus, there really aren’t many confined spaces. When you get on the bus there are bunks and so these bunks have little curtains you can pull at night if you don’t want anybody to see you sleeping … So it just so happened we were all laying in our bunks and the curtains are open, everybody’s communicating, laughing. When the [room] door flew open on the bus, Robert was having sex with Aaliyah.”
R. Kelly met Aaliyah at the age of 12 and acted as a mentor, producing her debut album Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number. There have long been rumours of an inappropriate relationship between the pair, including a claim that they married in 1995, when she was 15 and he was 27.
The pair would never address these claims directly, although Vibe magazine unearthed and published a copy of a marriage certificate that falsely listed her age as 18, and there are reports that her parents later had the illegal union annulled.
The documentary also includes an interview with a former R. Kelly assistant who claims to have been present for the marriage ceremony. Demetrius Smith said that he helped the pair obtain falsified paperwork, and that he is “not proud” of his involvement, adding:
“Robert mentioned to me that ‘I think she’s pregnant’. That broke my heart right there because I really believed him when he said that he wasn’t messing with Aaliyah … Once he told me that I was at a loss for words.”
Smith claims that the wedding ceremony was so rushed that the couple were dressed in their everyday clothes, and that she looked “worried and scared.”
Aaliyah died in 2001 at the age of 22, when her plane crashed shortly after takeoff from Marsh Harbour Airport in the Bahamas, where she had been filming a music video.
Representatives for Kelly responded with “no comment” when asked about the claims relating to his inappropriate relationship with the young singer.
The first episode of the six-part documentary series airs January 3 in the US, on Lifetime.