Rowland was born Kelendria Trene Rowland in Atlanta, Georgia, the daughter of Doris Rowland Garrison and Christopher Lovett, who were married after Kelly was born. When she was seven, her mother took her and left her father, who was an abusive alcoholic.
At the age of eight, she relocated to Houston. Rowland was placed into a rapping and dancing group, along with friends Beyoncé Knowles and LaTavia Roberson. Originally named Girl's Tyme, they were eventually cut down to six members. West coast R&B producer, Arne Frager, flew into Houston to see them and eventually brought them to his studio, The Plant Recording Studio, in Northern California. As part of efforts to sign Girl's Tyme to a major label record deal, Frager's strategy was to debut them in Star Search, the biggest talent show on national TV at that time. They participated, but lost the competition.
To manage the group, Mathew Knowles, Beyoncé's father, resigned in 1995 from his job as a medical-equipment salesman. He dedicated his time and established a "boot camp" for their training. At this time Rowland moved in with the Knowles. Not long after the inclusion of Rowland, Mathew cut the original lineup to four with LeToya Luckett joining in 1993. Rehearsing in Tina Knowles' hair styling salon and their backyards, the group continued performing as an opening act for other established R&B girl groups of the time; They auditioned before record labels and were finally signed to Elektra Records, only to be dropped months later before they could release an album.Screenworks Starlight Entertainment 2011.