R. Kelly and Aaliyah in 1994 before an appearance on BET. Gregg Diggs, on right, programmed the music for BET and booked them that day.
She was 12 when they met. Her uncle, Barry Hankerson, was Kelly’s manager at the time. By 1993, Aaliyah was flying from her home in Detroit to work with Kelly in Chicago. Jive released her debut album in May 1994. “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number,” produced and written by Kelly, that would go on to sell millions.
That summer, the pair appeared on BET’s “Video Soul.” Leslie Segar, the show’s co-host, remembers Jive representatives telling BET it should not ask about their personal relationship or Aaliyah’s age.
But Kelly, then 27, and Aaliyah, 15, came before the cameras wearing conspicuously matching plaid shirts. Segar found it impossible to not to go there.
“Okay, let’s clear something else,” she said on air. “Everybody seems to think y’all either boyfriend or girlfriend, or cousins or friends. Let’s just get the record straight.”
“No, no, we’re not related at all,” Aaliyah replied. “We’re just very close. This is my best friend.”
Later, Segar broached the second topic.
“For the record, you are how old?”
“That’s a secret,” Aaliyah said, playfully putting a finger to her lips. “Shhhhh.”
Kelly decided they should get married. At 15, Aaliyah would need her parents’ permission. But Kelly didn’t tell them of his plans. In late August, he flew her to Chicago, where Demetrius Smith, his tour manager, says he took her to get a fake ID stating that she was 18. Kelly and Aaliyah were married Aug. 31, 1994, at the Sheraton Gateway Suites in Rosemont, Ill., according to paperwork filed with the Cook County Clerk on Sept. 6, 1994.
The marriage collapsed within days, after Aaliyah returned home and told her parents. The Haughtons eventually got the marriage expunged.