Aaliyah in Berlin, Germany, May 2000
|Birth name||Aaliyah Dana Haughton|
January 16, 1979|
Brooklyn, New York, United States
|Origin||Detroit, Michigan, United States|
|Died||August 25, 2001
Marsh Harbour, Abaco Islands, The Bahamas
|Genres||R&B, pop, hip hop|
|Occupations||Singer, dancer, actress, model|
|Labels||Blackground, Jive, Atlantic, Virgin|
|Associated acts||Missy Elliott, Ginuwine, R. Kelly, Mr. Lee, Slick Rick, Static, Timbaland, Treach|
Aaliyah Dana Haughton (January 16, 1979 – August 25, 2001), who performed under the mononym Aaliyah (pron.: //), was an American recording artist, dancer, actress and model. She was born in Brooklyn, New York, and was raised in Detroit, Michigan. At the age of 10, she appeared on the television show Star Search and performed in concert alongside Gladys Knight. At age 12, Aaliyah signed with Jive Records and her uncle Barry Hankerson's Blackground Records. Hankerson introduced her to R. Kelly, who became her mentor, as well as lead songwriter and producer of her debut album, Age Ain't Nothing but a Number. The album sold three million copies in the United States and was certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). After facing allegations of an illegal marriage with R. Kelly, Aaliyah ended her contract with Jive and signed with Atlantic Records.
Aaliyah worked with record producers Timbaland and Missy Elliott for her second album, One in a Million; it sold 3.7 million copies in the United States and over eight million copies worldwide. In 2000, Aaliyah appeared in her first major film, Romeo Must Die. She contributed to the film's soundtrack, which spawned the single "Try Again". The song topped the Billboard Hot 100 solely on airplay, making Aaliyah the first artist in Billboard history to achieve this feat. "Try Again" earned Aaliyah a Grammy Award nomination for Best Female R&B Vocalist. After completing Romeo Must Die, Aaliyah filmed her part in Queen of the Damned. She released her third and final album, Aaliyah, in July 2001.
On August 25, 2001, Aaliyah and eight others were killed in an airplane crash in The Bahamas after filming the music video for the single "Rock the Boat". The pilot, Luis Morales III, was unlicensed at the time of the accident and had traces of cocaine and alcohol in his system. Aaliyah's family later filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Blackhawk International Airways, which was settled out of court. Aaliyah's music has continued to achieve commercial success with several posthumous releases. Aaliyah is estimated to have sold 24 to 32 million albums worldwide. She has been credited for helping redefine contemporary R&B and hip hop, earning her the nicknames "Princess of R&B" and "Queen of Urban Pop". She is listed by Billboard as the tenth most successful female R&B artist of the past 25 years, and 27th most successful R&B artist in history.
Life and career
1979–90: Early life and career beginnings
Aaliyah Dana Haughton was born on January 16, 1979, in Brooklyn, New York. Born of African American descent, with Native American heritage from her grandmother, she was the second and younger child of Diane and Michael Haughton. At a young age, Aaliyah was enrolled in voice lessons by her mother, and she would perform at weddings, church choir and charity events. When she was five years old, her family moved to Detroit, Michigan, where she was raised along with her older brother, Rashad. She attended a Catholic school, Gesu Elementary, where in first grade, she received a part in the stage play Annie. From then on, she was determined to become an entertainer.
Aaliyah's mother was a vocalist, and her uncle, Barry Hankerson, was an entertainment lawyer who had been married to Gladys Knight. As a child, Aaliyah traveled with Knight and worked with an agent in New York to audition for commercials and television programs, including Family Matters; she went on to appear on Star Search at the age of nine. She then auditioned for several record labels and appeared in concerts alongside Knight at age 11.
1991–95: Age Ain't Nothing but a Number and marriage
After Hankerson signed a distribution deal with Jive Records, he signed Aaliyah to his Blackground Records label at the age of 12. Hankerson later introduced her to recording artist and producer R. Kelly, who became Aaliyah's mentor, as well as lead songwriter and producer of the album, which was recorded when she was 14. Aaliyah's debut album, Age Ain't Nothing but a Number, was released under Jive and Blackground Records; the album debut at number 24 on the Billboard 200 chart, selling 74,000 copies in its first week. It ultimately peaked at number 18 on the Billboard 200 and sold over three million copies in the United States, where it was certified two times Platinum by the RIAA. In Canada, the album sold over 50,000 copies and was certified gold by the CRIA. Aaliyah's debut single, "Back & Forth", topped the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart for three weeks and was certified Gold by the RIAA. The second single, a cover of The Isley Brothers' "At Your Best (You Are Love)", peaked at number six on the Billboard Hot 100 and was also certified Gold by the RIAA. The title track, "Age Ain't Nothing but a Number", peaked at number 75 on the Hot 100. Additionally, she released "The Thing I Like" as part of the soundtrack to the 1994 film A Low Down Dirty Shame.
Age Ain't Nothing But a Number received generally favorable reviews from music critics. Some writers noted that Aaliyah's "silky vocals" and "sultry voice" blended with Kelly's new jack swing helped define R&B in the 1990s. Her sound was also compared to that of female quartet En Vogue. Christopher John Farley of Time magazine described the album as a "beautifully restrained work", noting that Aaliyah's "girlish, breathy vocals rode calmly on R. Kelly's rough beats". Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic felt that the album had its "share of filler", but described the singles as "slyly seductive". He also claimed that the songs on the album were "frequently better" than that of Kelly's second studio album, 12 Play.
With the release of Age Ain't Nothing but a Number, rumors circulated of a relationship between Aaliyah and R. Kelly. Shortly after, there was speculation about a secret marriage with the release of "Age Ain't Nothing but a Number" and the adult content that Kelly had written for Aaliyah. Vibe magazine later revealed a marriage certificate that listed the couple married on August 31, 1994, in Sheraton Gateway Suites in Rosemont, Illinois. Aaliyah, who was 15 at the time, was listed as 18 on the certificate; the illegal marriage was annulled in February 1995 by her parents. The pair continued to deny marriage allegations, stating that neither was married.
1996–99: One in a Million
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In 1996, Aaliyah left Jive Records and signed with Atlantic Records. She worked with record producers Timbaland and Missy Elliott, who contributed to her second studio album, One in a Million. The album yielded the single "If Your Girl Only Knew", which topped the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs for two weeks. It also generated the singles "Hot Like Fire" and "4 Page Letter". The following year, Aaliyah was featured on Timbaland & Magoo's debut single, "Up Jumps da Boogie". One in a Million peaked at number 18 on the Billboard 200, selling over 3.7 million copies in the United States and over eight million copies worldwide. The album was certified double platinum by the RIAA on June 16, 1997, denoting shipments of two million copies.
Aaliyah attended the Detroit High School for the Performing Arts, where she majored in drama and graduated in 1997. Aaliyah began her acting career that same year; she played herself in the police drama television series New York Undercover. During this time, Aaliyah participated in the Children's Benefit Concert, a charity concert that took place at the Beacon Theatre in New York. Aaliyah also became the spokesperson for Tommy Hilfiger Corporation. She contributed on the soundtrack album for the Fox Animation Studios animated feature Anastasia, performing a cover version of "Journey to the Past" which earned songwriters Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Aaliyah performed the song at the 1998 Academy Awards ceremony and became the youngest singer to perform at the event. The song "Are You That Somebody?" was featured on the Dr. Dolittle soundtrack, which earned Aaliyah her first Grammy Award nomination. The song peaked at number 21 on the Hot 100.
2000–01: Romeo Must Die and eponymous album
In 2000, Aaliyah landed her first major movie role in Romeo Must Die. Aaliyah starred opposite martial artist Jet Li, playing a couple who fall in love amid their warring families. It grossed US$18.6 million in its first weekend, ranking number two at the box office. In addition to acting, Aaliyah served as an executive producer of the film soundtrack, where she contributed four songs. "Try Again" was released as a single from the soundtrack; the song topped the Billboard Hot 100, making Aaliyah the first artist to top the chart based solely on airplay; this led the song to be released in a 12" vinyl and 7" single. The music video won the Best Female Video and Best Video from a Film awards at the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards. It also earned her a Grammy Award nomination for Best Female R&B Vocalist. The soundtrack went on to sell 1.5 million copies in the United States. After completing Romeo Must Die, Aaliyah began to work on her second film, Queen of the Damned. She played the role of an ancient vampire, Queen Akasha, which she described as a "manipulative, crazy, sexual being". She was scheduled to film for the sequels of The Matrix as the character Zee.
Aaliyah released her eponymous album, Aaliyah, in July 2001. It debuted at number two on the Billboard 200, selling 187,000 copies in its first week. The first single from the album, "We Need a Resolution", peaked at number 59 on the Billboard Hot 100. Aaliyah was engaged to co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records Damon Dash at the time of her death and had plans to marry him after the premiere of The Matrix Reloaded.
On August 25, 2001, at 6:45 pm (EST), Aaliyah and various members of the record company boarded a twin-engine Cessna 402B (registration N8097W) at the Marsh Harbour Airport in Abaco Islands, The Bahamas, to travel to the Opa-locka Airport in Florida, after they completed filming the music video for the single "Rock the Boat". They had a flight scheduled the following day, but with filming finishing early, Aaliyah and her entourage were eager to return to the United States and made the decision to leave immediately. The designated airplane was smaller than the Cessna 404 in which they had originally flown in on. The whole party and all of the equipment were accommodated on board. As a result, when the aircraft attempted to depart, it was over its maximum takeoff weight by 700 pounds (320 kg) and was carrying one excess passenger, according to its certification. The plane crashed shortly after takeoff, about 200 feet (60 m) from the runway. Aaliyah and the eight others on board, pilot Luis Morales III, hair stylist Eric Forman, Anthony Dodd, security guard Scott Gallin, video producer Douglas Kratz, stylist Christopher Maldonado, and Blackground Records employees Keith Wallace and Gina Smith, were all killed.
According to findings from an inquest, conducted by the coroner's office in The Bahamas, Aaliyah suffered from "severe burns and a blow to the head", in addition to severe shock and a weak heart. The coroner theorized that, even if Aaliyah had survived the crash, her recovery would have been virtually impossible given the severity of her injuries. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report stated that "the airplane was seen lifting off the runway, and then nose down, impacting in a marsh on the south side of the departure end of runway 27 and then exploding in flames." It indicated that the pilot was not approved to fly the plane he was attempting to fly. Morales falsely obtained his Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) license by showing hundreds of hours never flown, and he may also have falsified how many hours he had flown in order to get a job with his employer, Blackhawk International Airways. Additionally, an autopsy performed on Morales revealed traces of cocaine and alcohol in his system. The NTSB reported that the maximum allowed gross weight of the plane was "substantially exceeded" and that the center of gravity was positioned beyond its rear limit. John Frank of the Cessna Pilots Association stated that the plane was "definitely overloaded".
Funeral and wrongful death lawsuit
Aaliyah's funeral was held on August 31, 2001, at the St. Ignatius Loyola Church in New York City. Her body was set in a silver casket, which was carried in a glass hearse and was drawn by horse. An estimated 800 mourners were in attendance at the procession. Among those in attendance at the private ceremony were Missy Elliott, Timbaland, Gladys Knight, Lil' Kim and Sean Combs. After the service, 22 white doves were released to symbolize each year of Aaliyah's life. She was interred in a crypt in a private room in the Rosewood Mausoleum at the Ferncliff Cemetery.
The day of the crash was Morales' first official day with Blackhawk International Airways, an FAA Part 135 single-pilot operation. Morales was not registered with the FAA to fly for Blackhawk. As a result of the accident, Aaliyah's parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company, which was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. Barry & Sons, Inc., a corporation formed in 1992 to develop, promote and capitalize Aaliyah and to oversee the production and distribution of her records and music videos, brought an unsuccessful lawsuit in the New York Supreme Court against Instinct Productions LLC, the company that was hired in August 2001 to produce the music video for "Rock the Boat". The case was dismissed because of New York's wrongful death statute only permitting certain people to recover damages for wrongful death.
2001–11: I Care 4 U, canceled film roles and Ultimate Aaliyah
The week after Aaliyah's death, her third studio album, Aaliyah, rose from number 19 to number one on the Billboard 200. "Rock the Boat" was released as a posthumous single. The music video premiered on BET's Access Granted; it became the most viewed and highest rated episode in the history of the show. The song peaked at number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number two on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. It was also included on the Now That's What I Call Music! 8 compilation series; a portion of the album's profits was donated to the Aaliyah Memorial Fund. Promotional posters for Aaliyah that had been put up in major cities such as New York and Los Angeles became makeshift memorials for grieving fans. "More than a Woman" and "I Care 4 U" were released as posthumuous singles and peaked within the top 25 of the Billboard Hot 100. The album was certified double Platinum by the RIAA and sold 2.95 million copies in the United States. "More than a Woman" reached number one on the UK singles chart making Aaliyah the first deceased artist to reach number one on the UK singles chart. "More than a Woman" was replaced by George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" which is the only time in the UK singles chart's history where a dead artist has replaced another dead artist at number one.
She won two posthumous awards at the American Music Awards of 2002; Favorite Female R&B Artist and Favorite R&B/Soul Album for Aaliyah. Her second and final film, Queen of the Damned, was released in February 2002. Before its release, Aaliyah's brother, Rashad, re-dubbed some of her lines during post-production. It grossed US$15.2 million in its first weekend, ranking number one at the box office. On the first anniversary of Aaliyah's death, a candlelight vigil was held in Times Square; millions of fans observed a moment of silence; and throughout the United States, radio stations played her music in remembrance. In December 2002, a collection of previously unreleased material was released as Aaliyah's first posthumous album, I Care 4 U. A portion of the proceeds was donated to the Aaliyah Memorial Fund, a program that benefits the Revlon UCLA Women's Cancer Research Program and Harlem's Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. It debuted at number three on the Billboard 200, selling 280,000 copies in its first week. The album's lead single, "Miss You", peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and topped the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. In August of the following year, clothing retailer Christian Dior donated profits from sales in honor of Aaliyah.
Aaliyah was signed to appear in several future films, including Honey, a romantic film titled Some Kind of Blue, and a Whitney Houston-produced remake of the 1976 film Sparkle. Before her death, Aaliyah had filmed part of her role in The Matrix Reloaded and was scheduled to appear in The Matrix Revolutions as Zee. The role was subsequently recast to Nona Gaye. Aaliyah's scenes were included in the tribute section of the Matrix Ultimate Collection series.
In 2005, Aaliyah's second compilation album, Ultimate Aaliyah was released in the UK by Blackground Records. Ultimate Aaliyah is a three disc set, which included a greatest hits audio CD and a DVD. Andy Kellman of AllMusic remarked "Ultimate Aaliyah adequately represents the shortened career of a tremendous talent who benefited from some of the best songwriting and production work by Timbaland, Missy Elliott, and R. Kelly." A documentary movie Aaliyah Live in Amsterdam was released in 2011., shortly before the tenth anniversary of Aaliyah's death. The documentary, by Pogus Caesar, contained previously unseen footage shot of her career beginnings in 1995 when she was appearing in the Netherlands.
2012–present: Second posthumous album
In March 2012, music producer Jeffrey "J-Dub" Walker announced on his Twitter account that a song "Steady Ground", which he produced for Aaliyah's third album, would be included in the forthcoming posthumous Aaliyah album. This second proposed posthumous album would feature this song using demo vocals, as Walker claims the originals were somehow lost by his sound engineer. Aaliyah's brother Rashad later refuted Walker's claim, claiming that "no official album [is] being released and supported by the Haughton family."
On August 5, 2012, a song entitled "Enough Said" was released online. The song was produced by Noah "40" Shebib and features Canadian rapper Drake. Four days later, Jomo Hankerson confirmed that a posthumous album was being produced to be released by the end of 2012. The album was reported to comprise 16 unreleased songs and have contributions from Aaliyah's longtime collaborators Timbaland and Missy Elliott, among others.
On August 13, Timbaland and Missy Elliott dismissed rumors about being contacted or participating for the project. Elliott's manager Mona Scott-Young said in a statement to XXL, "Although Missy and Timbaland always strive to keep the memory of their close friend alive, we have not been contacted about the project nor are there any plans at this time to participate. We've seen the reports surfacing that they have been confirmed to participate but that is not the case. Both Missy and Timbaland are very sensitive to the loss still being felt by the family so we wanted to clear up any misinformation being circulated." Elliott herself said, "Tim and I carry Aaliyah with us everyday, like so many of the people who love her. She will always live in our hearts. We have nothing but love and respect for her memory and for her loved ones left behind still grieving her loss. They are always in our prayers."
Voice and style
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Aaliyah had the vocal range of a soprano. With the release of her debut single "Back & Forth", Dimitri Ehrlich of Entertainment Weekly expressed that Aaliyah's "silky vocals are more agile than those of self-proclaimed queen of hip-hop soul Mary J. Blige." Aaliyah described her sound as "street but sweet", which featured her "gentle" vocals over a "hard" beat. Though Aaliyah did not write any of her own material, her lyrics were described as in-depth. She incorporated R&B, pop and hip hop into her music. Her songs were often uptempo and melancholy, revolving around "matters of the heart". After her R. Kelly-produced debut album, Aaliyah worked with Timbaland and Missy Elliott, whose productions were more electronic. Sasha Frere-Jones of The Wire finds Aaliyah's "Are You That Somebody?" to be Timbaland's "masterpiece" and exemplary of his production's start-stop rhythms, with "big half-second pauses between beats and voices". Keith Harris of Rolling Stone cites "Are You That Somebody?" as "one of '90's R&B's most astounding moments".
Aaliyah's songs have been said to have "crisp production" and "staccato arrangements" that "extend genre boundaries" while containing "old-school" soul music. Kelefah Sanneh of The New York Times called Aaliyah "a digital diva who wove a spell with ones and zeroes", and writes that her songs comprised "simple vocal riffs, repeated and refracted to echo the manipulated loops that create digital rhythm", as Timbaland's "computer-programmed beats fitted perfectly with her cool, breathy voice to create a new kind of electronic music." When she experimented with other genres on Aaliyah, such as Latin pop and heavy metal, Entertainment Weekly's Craig Seymour panned the attempt. As her albums progressed, writers felt that Aaliyah matured, calling her progress a "declaration of strength and independence". Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic described her eponymous album, Aaliyah, as "a statement of maturity and a stunning artistic leap forward" and called it one of the strongest urban soul records of its time. She portrayed "unfamiliar sounds, styles and emotions", but managed to please critics with the contemporary sound it contained. Ernest Hardy of Rolling Stone felt that Aaliyah reflected a stronger technique, where she gave her best vocal performance. Prior to her death, Aaliyah expressed a desire to learn about the burgeoning UK garage scene she had heard about at the time.
Influences and image
As an artist, Aaliyah often voiced that she was inspired by a number of performers. These include Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Sade, En Vogue, Nine Inch Nails, Korn, Prince, Naughty by Nature, Johnny Mathis and Janet Jackson. Aaliyah expressed that Michael Jackson's Thriller was her "favorite album" and that "nothing will ever top Thriller." She stated that she admired Sade because "she stays true to her style no matter what... she's an amazing artist, an amazing performer... and I absolutely love her." Aaliyah expressed she had always desired to work with Janet Jackson, whom she had drawn frequent comparison to over the course of her career, stating "I admire her a great deal. She's a total performer... I'd love to do a duet with Janet Jackson." Jackson reciprocated Aaliyah's affections, commenting "I've loved her from the beginning because she always comes out and does something different, musically." Jackson also stated she would have enjoyed collaborating with Aaliyah.
Aaliyah focused on her public image throughout her career. She often wore baggy clothes and sunglasses, stating that she wanted to be herself. She described her image as being "important... to differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack". She often wore black clothing, starting a trend for similar fashion among women in United States and Japan. Aaliyah participated in fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger's All America Tour and was featured in Tommy Jean ads, which depicted her in boxer shorts, baggy jeans and a tube top. Hilfiger's brother, Andy, called it "a whole new look" that was "classy but sexy". When she changed her hairstyle, Aaliyah took her mother's advice to cover her left eye, much like Veronica Lake. In 1998, she hired a personal trainer to keep in shape, and exercised five days a week and ate diet foods. Aaliyah was praised for her "clean-cut image" and "moral values". Robert Christgau of The Village Voice wrote of Aaliyah's artistry and image, "she was lithe and dulcet in a way that signified neither jailbait nor hottie—an ingenue whose selling point was sincerity, not innocence and the obverse it implies."
Aaliyah has been credited for helping redefine R&B and hip hop in the 1990s, "leaving an indelible imprint on the music industry as a whole." Steve Huey of AllMusic wrote Aaliyah ranks among the "elite" artists of the R&B genre, as she "played a major role in popularizing the stuttering, futuristic production style that consumed hip-hop and urban soul in the late '90s." Described as one of "R&B's most important artists" during the 1990s, her second studio album, One in a Million, became one of the most influential R&B albums of the decade. Music critic Simon Reynolds cited "Are You That Somebody?" as "the most radical pop single" of 1998. Kelefah Sanneh of The New York Times wrote that rather than being the song's focal point, Aaliyah "knew how to disappear into the music, how to match her voice to the bass line", and consequently "helped change the way popular music sounds; the twitchy, beat-driven songs of Destiny's Child owe a clear debt to 'Are You That Somebody'." Sanneh asserted that by the time of her death in 2001, Aaliyah "had recorded some of the most innovative and influential pop songs of the last five years." With sales of 8.1 million albums in the United States and an estimated 24 to 32 million albums worldwide, Aaliyah earned the nicknames "Princess of R&B" and "Queen of Urban Pop", as she "proved she was a muse in her own right". Ernest Hardy of Rolling Stone dubbed her as the "undisputed queen of the midtempo come-on". Japanese pop singer Hikaru Utada has said several times that "It was when I heard Aaliyah's Age Ain't Nothing but a Number that I got hooked on R&B.", after which Utada released her debut album First Love with heavy R&B influences.
Aaliyah was honored at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards by Janet Jackson, Missy Elliott, Timbaland, Ginuwine and her brother, Rashad, who all paid tribute to her. In the same year, the United States Social Security Administration ranked the name Aaliyah one of the 100 most popular names for newborn girls. Aaliyah was ranked as one of "The Top 40 Women of the Video Era" in VH1's 2003 The Greatest series. She was also ranked at number 18 on BET's "Top 25 Dancers of All Time". Aaliyah appeared on both 2000 and 2001 list of Maxim Hot 100 in position 41 and the latter at 14. In memory of Aaliyah, the Entertainment Industry Foundation created the Aaliyah Memorial Fund to donate money raised to charities she supported. In December 2009, Billboard magazine ranked Aaliyah at number 70 on its Top Artists of the Decade, while her eponymous album was ranked at number 181 on the magazine's Top 200 Albums of the Decade. She is listed by Billboard as the tenth most successful female R&B artist of the past 25 years, and 27th most successful R&B artist overall. In 2012, VH1 ranked her number 48 in "VH1's Greatest Women in Music."
|Star Search||1989||TV show||Herself||1 episode|
|New York Undercover||1997||TV series||Herself (Musical guest)||Season 3, episode 65: "Fade Out"|
|Romeo Must Die||2000||Feature film||Trish O'Day|
|Queen of the Damned||2002||Feature film||Queen Akasha||Posthumous release|
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Aaliyah|
- Official website
- Aaliyah at the Internet Movie Database
- Aaliyah at Find a Grave
- Aaliyah collected news and commentary at The New York Times