Signed to a recording contract at the age of 12, Aaliyah became an overnight R&B sensation. At the height of her stardom, a fatal plane crash ended her life.
Singer and actress Aaliyah Dana Haughton was born on January 16, 1979, in Brooklyn, New York. Raised in Detroit, Michigan, the young singer competed unsuccessfully on the television program Star Search at age 11. Later that same year, she performed with R&B legend Gladys Knight, the former wife of her uncle and manager, Barry Hankerson, at a five-night stand in Las Vegas.
In 1994, at the age of 15, Aaliyah catapulted onto the R&B charts herself with her debut album, Age Ain't Nothing But a Number. Produced by the successful singer R. Kelly, the album quickly sold a million copies and eventually earned platinum status based largely on the success of two hit singles, “Back and Forth” and “At Your Best (You Are Love).”
Later that year, tabloid reports surfaced claiming that the sultry teen singer had married the 27-year-old Kelly, but Aaliyah denied the union and the marriage was reportedly annulled.
While a student in the dance program at Detroit High School for the Fine and Performing Arts (she graduated in 1997), Aaliyah released her sophomore album, One in a Million (1996). Helmed by the well-known pop producer Timbaland and featuring rap performer Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott, One in a Million portrayed the 17-year-old singer as a sultry hip-hop chanteuse with a self-confidence well beyond her years. The album garnered favorable reviews and sold two million copies.
She also performed the song for the Oscar telecast in 1998. Her next soundtrack effort, “Are You That Somebody?” for 1998's Dr. Dolittle, starring Eddie Murphy, went to No. 1 on the R&B charts, was a pop crossover hit, and earned Aaliyah her first Grammy Award nomination.
Budding Film Career
In 2000, Aaliyah made her acting debut in the surprise action hit Romeo Must Die, starring opposite martial arts star Jet Li in a Romeo and Juliet-inspired story set in modern-day Los Angeles. She was also an executive producer of the movie's soundtrack and performed the hit single “Try Again,” which netted her a second Grammy nomination as well as two MTV Music Video Awards for Best Female Video and Best Video From a Film.
Her third album, Aaliyah, was released in July 2001 and reached No. 2 on the Billboard album chart. Also in 2001, she played the title role in Queen of the Damned, based on the bestselling novel by Anne Rice and released in theaters in 2002. She scored a major casting coup when she signed to appear in two upcoming sequels to the blockbuster sci-fi thriller The Matrix, starring Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne.
Tragically, Aaliyah was killed on August 25, 2001, when a small Cessna passenger plane carrying the singer and her video crew crashed and burst into flames shortly after takeoff from Abaco Island in the Bahamas, where they had just completed work on a video. The plane was headed for Miami, Florida.
Aaliyah and seven other people, including the pilot, were believed to have died instantly, while a ninth passenger died later at a Bahamian hospital. Aaliyah was 22 years old at the time of her death. She is survived by her parents, Diane and Michael Haughton, and an older brother, Rashaad.
January 16, 1979
August 25, 2001
- At age nine, Aaliyah competed on the TV show ‘Star Search’ ‐ but lost and cried. Host of the show Ed McMahon said “There's a thing that you see when somebody walks out on the stage, I call it the fire… And that's what I saw with Aaliyah”.
- Aaliyah was known for her extremely mysterious aura. She never gave anything away. “I've always been mysterious” Aaliyah told Vibe. My mother and father always used to ask me. ‘What are you thinking, what's going on?’ There are times when I don't understand myself.”
- Atlantic Records wanted to remix ‘One In A Million,’ but Aaliyah hid the tape so they couldn't. The record label thought the song wouldn't be a success unless it was made more radio friendly. “We grabbed the two-inch reels and all the tapes so nobody could do any unauthorized remixes and we stuck to our guns on that version of the record” said Jomo Hankerson, Aaliyah's cousin and the then manager of Blackground Records.
- Aaliyah was very quick at recording songs in the studio. “I'd leave the studio for a minute and come back and she would have completed the whole song” Missy Elliott, who worked with Aaliyah more than any producer, told Vibe. “She worked really hard that way.”
- In 1998, at age 19, Aaliyah became the youngest singer to perform at the Academy Awards.
- At Aaliyah's funeral, 22 white doves were released to symbolise each year of Aaliyah's life. Diane Haughton, mother of R&B star Aaliyah, releases doves in front of the St. Ignatius Loyola Church in New York following the funeral services.