Singer Brian McKnight Is Often Criticized for His Questionable Parenting Choices

On Instagram, McKnight only acknowledges Julia, Jack, Kekoa Matteo, and Brian Kanoa Makoa as his kids, but he has four others.

Jennifer Tisdale - Author

Apr. 18 2024, Updated 1:32 p.m. ET

Brian McKnight signing and playing the piano on stage,
Source: Getty Images

Singer Brian McKnight, who rose to fame in the '90s with songs like "Back at One" and "Anytime," faced criticism on social media back in 2023 for allegedly ignoring his biological kids in favor of his stepchildren.

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That wasn't the first time he'd been on the receiving end of public backlash for the seemingly questionable treatment of his kids. Here's what we know about Brian McKnight's complicated relationship with his children.

Brian McKnight with his wife and two step children.
Source: Instagram/@brianmcknight23

Brian McKnight with his wife and two stepchildren.

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How many biological kids does Brian McKnight have?

According to Brian McKnight's Instagram bio, he is a father to "Julia, Jack, Kekoa Matteo, and Brian Kanoa Makoa." The first two listed are the biological children of his wife, Dr. Leilani Malia Mendoza. Sadly, Kekoa Matteo passed away before his due date, which Brian revealed in a heartbreaking Instagram post. In January 2023, the couple welcomed Brian Kanoa Makoa into the world.

What's strange about all of this is the fact that McKnight has four biological children from previous relationships. Not only are they not mentioned in the performer's Instagram bio, but he writes about his stepchildren and newborn son as if fatherhood is a new adventure. In the deeply upsetting post about the loss of Kekoa Matteo, McKnight wrote, "For the very first time in my life, I got to experience what it’s like to want to and plan to have a child made from love." Yikes.

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When he visited his stepdaughter Julia at University of California, Santa Barbara, McKnight posted a video of her at the beach house where she lived with friends. "Julies, I became a girl dad because of YOU and I couldn't have asked for a better daughter," he captioned the video. That's a lovely thing to say, except he already has a daughter.

According to Essence magazine, the singer has four biological kids from past relationships: Brian Jr., Briana, Niko, and Clyde. Imagine being Briana and seeing the Instagram video of your father with his stepdaughter, where he also writes, "Here’s to you Jules, the perfect daughter I always wanted." We're also wondering what Brian Jr. thinks about his father also naming the son he shares with Leilani Brian. That's too many Brians.

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Brian McKnight Jr, Brian McKnight and Nico McKnight attend day 1 of Melanie Segal's Kids' Choice Awards.
Source: Getty Images

(L-R) Brian McKnight Jr., Brian McKnight, and Nico McKnight in 2009

What happened between Brian McKnight and his biological kids?

In August 2019, McKnight posted a video addressing the accusations that he had abandoned his biological children. "Anyone who knows me know that for the last 30 years, I've been there for children every step of the way until recently," said the singer. "And let's be clear, my two sons are 30 and 27." McKnight added that he never missed a child support payment, has never intentionally hurt them, and has always been there when they needed him.

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At this point McKnight dips into a classic parental complaint which is that he spoiled them. That's right, McKnight simply gave them too much. McKnight admitted to cutting off Brian Jr. and Niko at the ages of 25 and 22, respectively. He claimed that after they left his home, McKnight paid for an apartment for two years with the caveat that they had to get a job, which never happened.

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McKnight revealed that after he met his now-wife, she tried to get jobs for his sons at the hospital where she is a doctor. Per McKnight, neither of them wanted to work there because of drug testing. McKnight maintains that he and his children are estranged and that they were not abandoned by him. Then a wild story comes down the pipeline.

"BJ [Brian Jr.] broke into our home a few months ago, and he put X's on the eyes of our wedding photos," McKnight revealed. He then apparently placed a picture from McKnight's first wedding on Leilani's vanity. McKnight alleged he was made aware of social media posts by his son where his son stated McKnight was "better off dead to him."

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Things definitely took a turn when McKnight brought up his biological daughter and an alleged a physical relationship she was having with a much older cousin. McKnight says that when he spoke with child protective services in Arizona where she lived with her mother, he never heard back from them but was blocked on all social media by his daughter's mother. He also claimed she only wanted to have a child with him "for money."

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Then, in April 2024, McKnight took to Instagram with a cryptic post suggesting that the only way to lead a happy life is by ridding it of evil and negativity, "even if that evil and negativity is related," he mentioned. In the comments section, some folks made it clear that they believed he was referring to his four estranged children.

Indeed, McKnight's post was actually a reply to a commenter who implied that McKnight's "forgotten" family might be evil. The commenter seems to be offering up an answer to "what happened to [McKnight's] other children," by suggesting "some families are pure evil."

Nevertheless, McKnight urged people to check his Instagram for receipts regarding his relationship with his biological children.

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