- Aaliyah’s uncle released the late R&B star’s music to streaming services Friday.
- That same day, jurors in the R. Kelly trial learned that Aaliyah’s uncle introduced her to the accused predator.
- Barry Hankerson was Kelly’s manager at the time the singer married the 15-year-old star.
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Fans of R&B icon Aaliyah had been clamoring for years for the release of her music on streaming services. But it wasn’t until nearly 20 years after the singer’s death, in the middle of R. Kelly’s federal sex crimes trial, that fans got their wish.
A jury in federal court in Brooklyn learned Friday that Barry Hankerson, Aaliyah’s uncle and Kelly’s former manager, introduced his niece to the alleged predator who made her his child bride.
That same day, Aaliyah’s 1996 album “One in a Million,” which – along with most of her music – had been under her uncle’s control, appeared on streaming platforms for the first time. The release is part of a partnership between Hankerson’s Blackground Records and independent music company EMPIRE, Billboard reported earlier this month.
“It has been a long time since the fans could enjoy Aaliyah and other artists on our catalog, and there has been a lot of changes in the music business since we took the music off the market,” Hankerson told Billboard. “We wanted to be sure to be with the right people, the right executives, and to give ourselves the right time to do the different things. So when you add all that up, it was a couple of years before we could even really consider putting the music out.”
Insider’s attempts to contact Hankerson for comment have been unsuccessful.
A release decades in the making
Hankerson told Billboard that he and Aaliyah’s mother, his sister, hadn’t been in regular contact since his niece died in a plane crash in 2001, when she was 22 years old.
He said he believed that his sister, Diane Haughton, didn’t want her daughter’s music to be released. Her estate had previously denied that was the case, Billboard reported.
Hankerson said he believed a statement released by the estate last August gave him the green light to release Aaliyah’s music.Since then, Aaliyah’s estate has called the release of her music an “unscrupulous endeavor” and suggested it was done without the estate’s involvement. The statement, which didn’t mention anyone by name, referenced “forgiveness” but also took a jab at “individuals who emerged from the shadows to leech off Aaliyah’s life work.”
Hankerson introduced R. Kelly to his niece
Kelly is accused of a long list of crimes, including allegations that he and others bribed a government official to obtain a fake ID so that Kelly could marry a teenaged Aaliyah after she told him she was pregnant. Kelly has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
The singer’s relationship with teenage Aaliyah arose during testimony on Friday, when the singer’s tour manager was forced to testify.
Demetrius Smith, who acted as a personal assistant and scheduler to Kelly, reluctantly told jurors that he and Kelly first met Aaliyah in the early 1990s. Smith said Hankerson, who was Kelly’s manager at the time, told them that his niece had a special talent and asked them to come to Detroit to listen to her sing. After hearing Aaliyah sing, which Smith described as “angelic,” Kelly began writing and producing music with her.
Smith testified that Kelly and Aaliyah became close, and at times he grew concerned they were “too playful.” He said he confronted Kelly about whether they were “messing around,” which Kelly denied. In August 1994, though, Kelly told him that they needed to go to Chicago because Aaliyah – then 15 – thought she was pregnant. Smith told the jury he paid a government official $US500 ($AU700) to make a fake ID that made Aaliyah appear to be 18 so she could marry without her parents’ permission.
The marriage, Smith testified, was an attempt to protect Kelly from going “to jail.”
Kelly fired Hankerson sometime after he married Aaliyah, according to Smith.
Aaliyah’s parents annulled her underage marriage to Kelly in February 1995.