The R. Kelly trial is finally scheduled to begin May 9, more than six years after the Sun-Times received and turned over to police a videotape that reportedly shows the singer having sex with and urinating on an underage girl. The day the Sun-Times broke that story Kelly sang “The World’s Greatest” at the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
There’s long been a discordance between Kelly’s legal troubles and his public life. A bizarre story in the New York Times last November noted that Kelly still faced child pornography charges in Chicago; yet it claimed he’d survived the scandal “in spectacular form, mainly by refusing to be cowed. If anything, his raunchiest songs got even more outlandish in the years after the report broke; what else could fans do but shrug and grin and sing along?”
There’s also a discordance between the gravity of the charges against Kelly and the case’s desultory progress—if that’s the word—in Cook County’s courts. Reporters tracking the case have wondered why the state’s attorney’s office didn’t just drop the charges if it cared as little as it seemed to, or why Kelly didn’t cop a plea to keep himself free and onstage. Given that bootleg copies of the video have been peddled across the country, they’ve wondered why the federal government didn’t step in.
The pretrial maneuvering is another mystery. It’s taken place in the chambers of circuit judge Vincent Gaughan rather than in open court, and Gaughan has imposed a gag on attorneys. To find out what’s going on, the Sun-Times and Tribune filed emergency motions first with Gaughan and Monday with the Illinois Supreme Court. Presumably the judge wants to protect (former) minors who might figure in the trial. Pretrial coverage has focused on the video, but the Sun-Times noted in passing on April 14 that prosecutors “want to introduce evidence of other crimes allegedly committed by the R&B singer.”
Back in December 2000, a long Sun-Times article by music writer Jim DeRogatis and legal reporter Abdon Pallasch claimed that according to court records and interviews, Kelly had exploited his status “as a pop superstar to meet numerous girls as young as 15 and have sex with them.” The article cited a 1996 lawsuit by a Chicago woman who alleged she’d begun having sex with Kelly in 1991 when she was 15 and that “he encouraged her to participate in group sex with him and other underage girls.”
That case was settled out of court. The Sun-Times said Chicago police twice dropped investigations of Kelly because the underage female he’d allegedly been involved with wouldn’t cooperate.
In 2002, police arresting Kelly in Florida to face the child pornography charges in Chicago confiscated a digital camera. On the basis of what they found on it, he was charged with 12 counts of possession of child pornography, but a judge ruled that the evidence had been illegally obtained and those charges were dropped.
The 2000 Sun-Times article also recalled Kelly’s sudden marriage in 1994 to Aaliyah. The singer was 15 at that time, and her family saw to it that the marriage was quickly annulled. (Aaliyah died in a plane crash in 2001.) Kelly’s publicist, Regina Daniels, told the Sun-Times, “I’m not looking under the covers with him. All I know is that he has presented himself to me to be a respectable person.”
DeRogatis has continued to track Kelly. Two months ago DeRogatis reported on his blog that Daniels abandoned Kelly last year when she discovered that he was having a relationship with her 21-year-old stepdaughter. That post drew a predictably discordant response. “DO YOU STALK HIM ALL OVER CHICAGO, WATCHING [H]IS EVERY MOVE? YOU WON’T ADMIT TO IT. BUT I BET YOU DO,” wrote one reader. “It is really quite SICK how you have passed judgment and sickened us all with your obsession,” wrote another.
I don’t blame DeRogatis for being fascinated, and he’s not alone. At hitsville.org, former Reader staffer Bill Wyman has been compiling the highlights of Kelly’s “extravagant history” in the ongoing feature “R. Kelly SexFactsTM.”
What do Studs Terkel and Howard Stern Have in Common?
I found out Chicago had a radio hall of fame when an angry friend e-mailed me about its latest finalists for induction. Studs Terkel and everyone else from WFMT had been passed over yet again!
Richard Roeper had a similar reaction when he found out the new finalists include Steve Dahl and Howard Stern. “Wait a minute,” he wrote in the Sun-Times. “There’s a Radio Hall of Fame, and neither Steve Dahl nor Howard Stern is in it? That’s like the New York Yankees having a Hall of Fame and saying they’ll eventually get around to exhibits featuring Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris.”
And after that, maybe they’ll do something for Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio.
The National Radio Hall of Fame, a part of Chicago’s Museum of Broadcast Communications, has been inducting members since 1992. Every spring a “steering committee” meets in Chicago to go over names submitted by the public and choose four finalists in each of four categories: an active national figure, a national pioneer, an active local or regional figure, and a local or regional pioneer. Then a vote by museum members and industry figures—and this year for the first time the public—decides the winners.
Terkel’s never even been a nominee. Nor has retired general manager Norm Pellegrini or anyone else associated with WFMT—which bugs the station’s loyalists. “We’ve never been able to figure it out,” says Steve Robinson, the present general manager. “Norm Pellegrini is a legend in classical music programming. Ray Nordstrand [the late general manager] pioneered so many things. Ray was a visionary in terms of sales techniques. Lastly, there’s Studs Terkel. When I came here in 2000 and found out about this award I looked for Studs’s name, Norman’s name, the five names. I didn’t see them on there and I knew something was up and I didn’t know what to make of it. I’m still scratching my head.”
For years Pellegrini has been championing Bernie and Rita Jacobs, who founded WFMT in 1951. This year he had a talk with Bruce DuMont, founder and president of the broadcast museum, and he says DuMont told him, “Well, it’s always a tricky thing for the people who are no longer with us. But things are coming up”—i.e., the steering committee’s spring meeting. Then Pellegrini called DuMont’s right-hand woman, Gina Loizzo. “She said, ‘Why don’t you have somebody from ‘FMT reinforce you?’ So I asked Steve. He said, ‘I’ve been trying for years to get them to nominate you and Ray and Bernie and Rita and Studs and they haven’t done a damn thing.'”
Nevertheless, Robinson sent a letter. It said the Jacobses made WFMT “one of the most respected radio stations in the United States and, I dare say, in the world,” a model for other stations.
I’d like to think the case for Studs Terkel doesn’t need to be made. He conducted live interviews weekdays on WFMT from 1952 to 1997. Earlier there was The Wax Museum, a Sunday radio show he launched in Chicago in 1945. Even earlier, he did radio soaps.
Kraig Kitchin, a radio consultant in LA, e-mailed me: “I can tell you that Mr. Terkel’s books, particularly Working, has had an impact on my thinking. I think very highly of him in that regard and if I had the chance to meet him, would certainly go out of my way to say a sincere Thank You for his body of work.”
I was hoping for his opinion of Terkel as a radio man. Kitchin sits on DuMont’s steering committee and attended the spring meeting on April 9. As usual, the WFMT candidacies went nowhere, and I thought Kitchin might say why. But the deliberations are supposed to be confidential, and Kitchin kept the confidence.
All DuMont was willing to tell me was that Terkel’s name “has come up for discussion on many occasions, and sometimes [names] are moved forward, sometimes not.” Terkel’s name has never been moved forward. “It doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be discussed at some point in the future,” said DuMont. “It just hasn’t happened yet.” These things take time, he said—Jim Zabel, “the voice of the Iowa Hawkeyes for 49 years,” wasn’t nominated until this year.
Kitchin wasn’t the only steering committee member I got in touch with. “I wasn’t aware of that. It does seem kind of odd,” said Michele Hilmes, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, when I told her about Terkel. But she’s new to the committee and missed the spring meeting. So did another member from out of town.Black radio pioneer Marv Dyson, now with Kennedy-King College, was there. I asked what the problem was with Studs Terkel. “Was he on the radio, too?” Dyson replied. Yes, I said. “My background is urban mainstream,” Dyson explained. He thought a bit. “The meetings I’ve been to,” said Dyson, “I don’t remember his name coming up.”
It’s not Studs Terkel I worry about here. No, like Richard Roeper I’m concerned about Steve Dahl and Howard Stern. The chance to join a hall of fame doesn’t come along every day. When it does you want to be in one that’s serious about its standards.v
For more on the media, see Michael Miner’s blog, News Bites, at chicagoreader.com.