GREENSBORO, N.C. -- A defiant R. Kelly took the stage Friday night in North Carolina, in spite of efforts to silence him over his treatment of women, and had barely begun performing when the bone-rattling background beat stopped playing. "I've been through a lot of (expletive)" this week, he said. He thanked his fans, "for y'all to fight for me all these years." He said someone had asked him to tone down his act.
And then he launched into his sexually suggestive repertoire. At one point, he rubbed a fan's cell phone between his legs. He persuaded another to wipe his face and crotch with a towel.
Women's groups had urged the Greensboro Coliseum to cancel, days after Kelly was disinvited from a concert in Chicago. Spotify announced it would no longer stream his music in its curated playlists. Other streaming services appeared to be demoting his music as well.
Kelly denies abusing anyone and faces no current criminal charges, and his fans weren't giving up on their R&B superstar.
"Everybody has some skeletons in the closet. I'm not going to tear him down, every good thing he does, because of something negative in his life," said Clarissa Kelley of Lancaster, South Carolina.
The Greensboro concert was among the R&B singer's first performances since the #MuteRKelly movement accelerated boycott efforts in recent weeks, withagainst sexual harassment and assault.
Protesters gathered outside the Greensboro Coliseum and criticized arena officials for declining to meet with a coalition of women's groups that signed a letter citing a "long term history of sexual misconduct" by Kelly.
"It's important for the black community to stand up and hold him accountable for his actions," said Omisade Burney-Scott, with the Sistersong, a reproductive rights group.
R. Kelly is one of pop music's best-selling artists, with hits including "Ignition," ''I Believe I Can Fly," ''Step in the Name of Love," ''Same Girl" and "Bump N' Grind." He's also written hits for Celene Dion, Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga. He's written classic love songs and even gospel music, but he's defined by sexually explicit songs such as "Feelin' on Yo Booty," ''Your Body's Calling Me," and "Sex Me."
He was acquitted in 2008 of child pornography after a video circulated appearing to show him having sex with a teenage girl. But as he continued to score hits and sell out stadiums, more women have come forward in recent years accusing him of sexual misconduct.
Kelly had been scheduled to be among the performers at a May 5 concert in Chicago, but was dropped as efforts by organizers of #MuteRKelly gained attention with support from Hollywood's Time's Up campaign.
Spotify, citing its new policy against hateful content and conduct, announced Thursday that Kelly's music is no longer available on the service's owned and operated playlists and algorithmic recommendations. His music can still be found by those who search for it, but Spotify will not promote it.
Kelly's management protested the move in a statement to The Associated Press.
"R. Kelly never has been accused of hate, and the lyrics he writes express love and desire," the statement read. "Mr. Kelly for 30 years has sung songs about his love and passion for women. He is innocent of the false and hurtful accusations in the ongoing smear campaign against him, waged by enemies seeking a payoff. He never has been convicted of a crime, nor does he have any pending criminal charges against him."
A days after Spotify's announcement, Pandora made a similar move. Listeners can still find music by R. Kelly or an R. Kelly radio station by searching his name, but Pandora will no longer actively promote his work.
"Pandora's policy is to not actively promote artists with certain demonstrable behavioral, ethical or criminal issues," it said in a statement. "We approach each of these scenarios on a case-by-case basis to ensure we address components true to Pandora's principles while not overreaching and avoiding censorship."