A new docuseries, Surviving R. Kelly, begins airing on Lifetime Jan. 3, and it consists of interviews with some of the women with whom Kelly allegedly had relationships with, including Sparkle. The R&B singer was a protegée of sorts of Kelly, whom she refers to by his birth name, Robert, in her interview. So who is Sparkle in Surviving R. Kelly exactly, and what part did she play in the allegations against him? R. Kelly did not immediately respond to Romper's request for comment.
Stephanie “Sparkle” Edwards, born May 13, 1975, was one of the artists under Kelly’s Rockland Records, and the first to have a single released through the label, a track with Kelly titled “Be Careful,” in the late ‘90s. Edwards eventually introduced Kelly to her teenage niece, and not long after the allegations of statutory rape against Kelly began.
A focal point of the docuseries is the 2008 trial of R. Kelly, which ultimately led to the artist being acquitted of all charges of child pornography. One of those charges came from a videotape which, according to Edwards' testimony, showed her niece and Kelly engaged in "sex acts," as reported by the Chicago Tribune. Edwards detailed how her niece became acquainted with the musician, as well as her own working relationship with Kelly, in the docuseries.
“Robert didn’t allow pretty much anyone to speak to me,” Edwards alleges in a clip from Surviving R. Kelly. “When I learned that, I would go out of my way to speak to people just to tick him off.” She added, “[He] can’t tell me what I can and can’t do. I’m not that girl. You can’t stifle me. But I didn’t know that a bomb was coming.”
The docuseries, executive produced by hip-hop journalist and filmmaker dream hampton (intentionally stylized with lowercase letters), allows several other women to open up about their alleged experiences with Kelly, including his ex-wife, Drea Kelly, and one of his early accusers, Lisa Van Allen. (Van Allen was actually the one responsible for sharing the alleged tape of Edwards’ niece.) Hampton told Shadow and Act she asked a number of popular artists who worked with Kelly over the years to be interviewed, but only John Legend agreed to participate.
Considering how even the extremely powerful in the music industry "don't want to touch it," according to hampton, Edwards did something pretty remarkable by testifying over a decade ago, in a much less accepting landscape. This had obvious repercussions on her career and, in fact, she initially did not want to participate in the docuseries either. However, the Chicago Tribune reports hampton’s desire to “celebrate” Edwards’ bravery in standing her ground so many years prior convinced her to be interviewed for Surviving R. Kelly.
Today, Sparkle is revitalizing her career with her single “W.A.R.” (“We Are Ready”), which focuses on the struggles facing women of color and relates directly back to everything she has gone through before and since the trial. It will be exciting to get to hear her story and see how a pre-#MeToo movement accuser has dealt with the changing landscape and what she has to offer for others in her position.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.