David Lincoln Hyatt,
Born in Jamaica in 1950, Hyatt served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and was honorably discharged in 1972. Several years later, he formed Tavdash. Along the way, he discovered the talents of R. Kelly when the singer/songwriter was an up-and-coming artist playing on the streets of Chicago.
According to his son Davin, Hyatt paid for an apartment for Kelly while he was recording his music. In 1989, Kelly released his first single, "Why You Wanna Play Me," with the group Mentally Gifted Men on Hyatt's label. Hyatt was also instrumental in getting Kelly signed to New York-based Jive Records, the label that signed the Backstreet
"Kelly's talent did it, but at the end of the day, I'm a firm believer that timing is everything," Davin tells New Times. "His time with Tavdash was right on time, and my father signed him to Jive records."
Four years later, Hyatt was arrested. He was a first-time offender accused by the feds of running truckloads of cocaine between Miami and Akron, Ohio, on the side. Hyatt's Miami studio and New York home were raided. Davin remembers opening the front door to the sight of several FBI agents, guns drawn.
"You'll never see your father ever again," Davin remembers one agent saying to him.
Pleading not guilty, Hyatt was tried in federal court in 1993 and convicted on one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine. Hyatt received the maximum sentence: life in prison without parole.
Throughout his time in prison, Hyatt denied having anything to do with an illegal drug-trafficking organization. Hyatt took to the internet to make a public appeal, claiming he was convicted based on only circumstantial evidence. He appealed for an early release several times. Hyatt's sister June Hyatt, an attorney and registered nurse in Hollywood, Florida, unsuccessfully represented her brother during the appeals process, which she describes to New Times as a "helpless" and "terrifying" experience.
Davin appealed to several well-known industry names, including Russell Simmons and Kelly himself, hoping Kelly would at least give his father a shoutout onstage, but it never happened. In his father's final days, Davin pleaded via Twitter with Kelly and even President Obama to get his father released from prison. Kelly did not respond to New Times' request for comment.
Hyatt was profiled in a November 2013 report by the American Civil Liberties Union on nonviolent criminals serving life in prison without parole. According to court documents, federal Judge William Dowd said he had no choice but to abide by the federal sentencing guidelines and give Hyatt a life sentence.
"I think like almost every other district court judge in the United States," Dowd said during sentencing, "at times we have expressed frustration with the straitjacket the guidelines represent, but clearly that's a decision that's way beyond the power of this court to make."
In the latter part of his prison sentence, Hyatt developed prostate cancer that spread to the rest of his body.
Recent court documents and filings found in Hyatt's belongings indicate to Davin that his father continued to fight to the very end.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Davin says he was not informed of his father's death until more than a day later. He received a letter August 12 from the warden expressing condolences for his father's passing.
Even while Hyatt was incarcerated, he continued to work on discovering musical talent. Through Hyatt's family, Tampa-based singer/songwriter Marcus Dupree befriend Hyatt in 2007. Dupree considers Hyatt a mentor and credits him for playing a major role in the evolution of R&B.
"David made R. Kelly," Dupree says. "He wouldn't even have a career if it wasn't for David Hyatt."
Hyatt is survived by his children, Davin,