Aaliyah Dana Haughton was an American actress, singer, dancer and model. She was born on January 16, 1979 in Brooklyn, New York to Diane and Michael Haughton. Enrolled in voice lessons by her mother at a very young age, Aaliyah soon began performing at weddings, the church choir and various charity events. Her love of performing for an audience was further enhanced after she acted in a school stage play. Her parents supported her choices and encouraged her to sing and perform. She was close to her family members including her cousin Jomo and her grandmother, who died when the singer was 12 years old. Her uncle was married to the singer Gladys Knight, who took Aaliyah with her to New York to audition for commercials and television programs.
Aaliyah was a conscientious student and maintained a 4.0 GPA in high school, despite the increasing demands on her time from her career. She felt that gaining a good education was important, and if her singing and acting career didn’t pan out like she wanted, she would open up a school for teaching drama or music history. She was subjected to some bullying and teasing at school because of her small stature but claimed that it didn’t bother her and only made her drive to succeed stronger. At the age of 12, she was signed to her uncle’s record label named Jive Records. He introduced her to the singer and producer R. Kelly who became her mentor and produced her debut album titled “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number” which was released when she was 14 years old. The song “Back & Forth” from the album topped the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart for three weeks and the title track “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number” reached No. 75 on the Hot 100 charts. The album itself debuted at No. 24 on the Billboard 200 chart, later reaching No. 18 and selling over 3 million copies in the U.S. It generally received positive reviews from critics.
In 1996, Aaliyah signed with Atlantic Records and released her second studio album titled “One in a Million” from which the song “If Your Girl Only Knew” reached the top of the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and stayed there for two weeks. The album reached No. 18 on the Billboard 200, selling over 3.7 million copies in the U.S. and over 8 million copies worldwide. Aaliyah attended the Detroit High School for the Fine and Performing Arts, majoring in drama and graduating in 1997. That same year, she acted in the television series “New York Undercover” and also became the spokesperson for the fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger’s company. Her song “Journey to the Past” for the the animated film “Anastasia” was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song and Aaliyah performed at the 1998 Academy Awards ceremony, becoming the youngest singer to do so. Her song “Are you that somebody?” earned her a Grammy Award nomination and was featured in the movie “Dr. Dolittle”.
In 2000, she played the lead role in the Hollywood movie “Romeo Must Die” starring opposite martial artist Jet Li. The film was a huge success at the box office and her song “Try Again” from the movie reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 charts. The song’s music video won the “Best Female Video” and “Best Video from a Film” awards at the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards and also earned her a Grammy Award nomination for “Best Female R&B Vocalist”. She also starred in the film “Queen of the Damned” based on the bestselling novel by author Anne Rice. Her next and last album titled “Aaliyah” was released in July 2001. It debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 200 charts and went to No. 1 after the death.
Aaliyah was killed in August 2001 in a plane crash in the Bahamas. She was 22 years old at the time of her death. She was rumored to have been secretly married to R. Kelly at the age of 15 which she initially denied. She later admitted to having lied about her age to get married and chose to cut off all ties with R. Kelly. She was also friends with singers Missy Elliott and Timbaland. She was dating Damon Dash, co-founder of “Roc-A-Fella Records” before her death, and the couple had plans to get married. Despite her youth, she managed to leave her indelible imprint on R&B and hip-hop scene in the 1990s and her work has influenced a number of major artists including Adele, Ciara, Beyoncé, Chris Brown and Rihanna.