Talented. Beautiful. Modest. These three words described R&B singer-turned-actress Aaliyah perfectly.
Aaliyah Dana Haughton was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Diane (Hankerson) and Michael Haughton. Her uncle was music manager Barry Hankerson and her brother is director Rashad Haughton. Aaliyah was raised in Detroit. She got her first major exposure appearing on the syndicated television series Star Search (1983), where she awed the audience with her amazing voice and talent, singing “My Funny Valentine”, a song which her mother had sung years earlier. At age 11, she sang with Gladys Knight in a five-night stint in Las Vegas. Withdrawing from the celebrity scene for a few years, Aaliyah lived the life of a normal teenage girl, attending Detroit’s Performing Arts High School, where she majored in dance. It was around this same time that Aaliyah met singer/composer R. Kelly. Kelly assisted Aaliyah with the production of her debut album “Age Ain’t Nothing But A number”, which scored several number hits, specifically “Back and Forth.” The album’s title was a brief reference to her short-lived marriage to R. Kelly (she was 15 years of age at the time, and he was in his 20s). Thir marriage was annulled due to her status as a minor.
During her senior year, Aaliyah went on to record “One In A Million”, which featured the songwriting talents of major R&B producers/writers Missy Elliott and Timbaland. The album was a major success and sealed Aaliyah’s fame forever.
Aaliyah recorded the single ‘Journey to the past’ for the Anastasia (1997) soundtrack. After seeing her at an awards show and in the video for her hit song “Are You that Somebody?” (from the Eddie Murphy film Doctor Dolittle (1998)), film producer Joel Silver (producer of The Matrix (1999) and other major actor films) asked Aaliyah to audition for a role in an romance/action film, Romeo Must Die (2000). With her determination and sex appeal, Aaliyah won Silver over and was cast in her first major film role. Romeo Must Die (2000) was a hit at the box office. This film led to her being cast as one of the stars of the film based on Anne Rice’s Queen of the Damned (2002), and in the two sequels to the major box office hit, The Matrix (1999), The Matrix Reloaded (2003) and The Matrix Revolutions (2003).
During the busy schedule of her film career, Aaliyah took time to record her third album, the self-titled “Aaliyah”. July 2001 was a busy time for Aaliyah. After the success of her song “Try Again”, for which she was nominated for a Grammy Award and won several MTV Video Awards, Aaliyah finally released her “Aaliyah” album. Debuting at number two on the Billboard charts, “Aaliyah” was a sales success, despite some lackluster reviews.
In August 2001, Aaliyah took time off from her busy album promotional tour to fly to the Bahamas to film a video for the song “Rock the Boat”. The video, filmed on Abaco Island, was directed by Hype Williams, a major music video director known for his style and wit.
On August 25, 2001, after filming the video, Aaliyah and about 9-11 of her entourage took off from Marsh Harbour airport at 6:50pm EDT in a small Cessna 404 en route to Opa-Locka, Florida. A few minutes after take-off, the plane crashed about 200 feet from the runaway, killing Aaliyah and many others instantly. Four passengers were pulled alive from the wreckage, and one later died at a hospital in Nassau. Aaliyah was only 22 years old. Her funeral was held on Friday August 31st in New York, and 22 white doves were flown to celebrate each year of her life. Soon after her death, the hit singles ‘More Than a woman’ and ‘Rock The Boat’ were released, from her third album. In 2002, the film Queen of the Damned (2002) was released, in which Aaliyah played Queen Akasha. She was nominated for best Villain at the MTV Movie Awards 2002.
Aaliyah’s short-lived, but brilliant career, was a true success story for a young African-American woman who went against all odds to be herself in an industry where originality is scarce. Truly missed by her family, friends, and fans, her music and film contributions will live forever. It’s no wonder that her name means ‘Highest, most ex-halted one; the best’ in Hebrew. She had achieved so much in her twenty-two years.
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