What is it about Aaliyah that made millions fall inlove with her? Is it her exuberating warmth whenever she came in contact with someone, or was it the fact that she loved selflessly, giving back to the community in however way she could. Whatever it is, there’s obviously something very special about this woman that enables many to remember her even 10 years after her death. Aaliyah has been in our hearts since her debut. Her sultry, smooth voice had us hooked. And her tomboy swag and chic outfits appealed to fans around the globe. Liyah’s music remains to inspire and keep us dancing in reminiscent of who she was as a person and artist, but at times gets us all emotional knowing she’s no longer with us encouraging and doing what she loves best. It was a life cut short but we rest assure in the fact that Aaliyah was here and she did achieve more than what a young woman her age was expected to. At this moment, I’d like to pay tribute to the r&b superstar who simply went only by one name; a friendly, funny, and kind woman we all liked to call Babygirl, but to the world of music, you might know her as Aaliyah.
Aaliyah Dana Haughton was born in Brooklyn, New York as the second and youngest child of her parents. She’s of African and Native American descent. Aaliyah’s family moved to Detroit when she was five years old. Her musical skills became noticeable to her family, compelling her mother to enroll her in voice lessons. Soon after, she began singing in her church choir and performing at charity events in her community. Aaliyah’s uncle, Barry Hankerson, was an entertainment lawyer who married singer Gladys Knight. As a child, she traveled with Gladys and worked with an agent in New York to audition for commercials and television shows. At the age of 10, Aaliyah entered “Star Search” (a music contest similar to today’s ‘American Idol’) but the singer did not earn a victory on the show. However, with the help of her uncle, she would go on to sign a recording contract with Jive records at the age of 12. Aaliyah began working with R.Kelly, who was a mentor, producer, and songwriter towards the star. Her debut album “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number” came out in June 1994, selling over 3 million copies in the U.S. The album included her debut hip hop influenced single “Back & Forth”, which peaked at number one on Billboard r&b/hip hop charts and stayed in the top position for three weeks. The follow-up single, “At Your Best (You Are Love)”, reached number 6 on Billboard hot 100. In early 1996, Aaliyah left Jive records and signed to Atlantic records, citing creative differences with Jive. This change did not alter her career, because the 17 year old jumped right back into the studio to begin work on her sophomore album. She received help from hit makers Timbaland and Missy Elliott, a collaboration that led to long lasting friendships. Her second album “One in a Million” was released in August 1996, selling over 8 million copies worldwide. It spawned the hit singles “If You’re Girl Only Knew”, “One in a Million”, “4 Page Letter”, and “The One I Gave My Heart To.”
Despite having a successful entertainment career at such a young age, Aaliyah did not neglect her education. She graduated in 1997 from the Detroit High School for the Performing Arts with a 4.0 GPA. She wasted no time because soon after graduating, Aaliyah went back to working on her music. Later that year, she recorded the song “Journey to the Past” for the animated movie “Anastasia’s” soundtrack, earning the songwriters an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. Aaliyah performed the song live at the Academy Awards in 1998, the youngest singer to ever do so. She ventured into modeling after receiving an endorsement deal from Tommy Hilfiger, which meant appearing in Ads and walking at several shows. She was later approached with the opportunity to record for the ‘Dr. Doolittle’ movie soundtrack, and thus “Are You That Somebody?” was released. Aaliyah would then take a break to work on developing herself as an actress. In 2000, she returned not only to music but in her first major lead role in the action film ‘Romeo Must Die’, starring alongside Kung Fu legend Jet Li and rapper DMX. The singer worked as executive producer on the movie soundtrack contributing four songs: “Try Again”, “Come Back In One Piece (ft. DMX)”, “I Don’t Wanna”, and “Are You Feeling Me?” “Try Again” became Aaliyah’s first single to top the Billboard hot 100 charts. The music video earned her two MTV Video Music Awards for “Best Female Video” and “Best Video from a Film”. After wrapping promotions for ‘Romeo Must Die’, Aaliyah began working on her second movie Anne Rice’s “Queen of the Damned”, a dark vampire tale about love. Amidst completing her parts in the film, she was also working on her third studio album and filming segments for ‘The Matrix’ sequels. Her self-titled third studio album was released in July 2001, mainly produced by Timbaland. The album debuted at number 2 on the Billboard 200 chart, her highest charted album in the singer’s career. Aaliyah would then go on a heavy promotional grind for the album, doing several interviews and appearing on music programs. Little did the singer know that this would be the final album of her life.
In August 2001, after completing the music video for her second single “Rock The Boat”, Aaliyah’s plane crashed in the Bahamas, killing her along with eight other people. The singer was only 22 years old. According to findings from an inquest, he singer suffered from severe burns and a blow to the head, along with severe shock and a weak heart. When news of Aaliyah’s death hit the states, fans, family, and friends were left distraught and in denial; it was difficult to accept the fact that she was gone and wouldn’t be gracing us with her presence anymore. The singer’s funeral was held on August 31, 2001 at the St. Ignatius Loyola Church in New York. Her silver casket was carried in a glass hearse and was drawn by a horse.
Aaliyah’s music has redefined 90s r&b. She’s one of the most influential for up and coming as well as for r&b artists who are successful in today’s society. Her music never gets tiring or unfit for airplay. She’s classy, swaggerific, elegant, and God fearing. A role model who never dies but remains embedded in the hearts of millions, including myself, worldwide. We miss you Aaliyah.