Head and upper torso of a young woman with long, black hair and a broad facial expression, wearing an unbuttoned navy blue jacket and a tank top underneath. Glasses hang from the center of her tank top and she holds a brown purse on the left side of her body.
Aaliyah in early 2001
Background information
Birth name Aaliyah Dana Haughton
Born January 16, 1979(1979-01-16)
Brooklyn, New York City, United States
Origin Detroit, Michigan, United States
Died August 25, 2001(2001-08-25) (aged 22)
Marsh Harbour, Abaco Island, The Bahamas
Genres R&B, pop, hip hop
Occupations Singer, dancer, actress, model
Years active 1991–2001
Labels Blackground, Jive, Atlantic, Virgin
Website http://www.aaliyah.com/

Aaliyah Dana Haughton (January 16, 1979 – August 25, 2001), who performed under the mononym Aaliyah (play /ɑːˈlə/), was an American R&B recording artist, 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. Since then, Aaliyah's music has continued to achieve commercial success with several posthumous releases. Aaliyah recorded several number one R&B hits and five top ten Billboard Hot 100 singles. Aaliyah sold 32 million albums worldwide. She has been credited for helping redefine 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 overall.[1]


Early life

Aaliyah Dana Haughton was born on January 16, 1979, in Brooklyn, New York.[2] Born of African American descent, with Native American heritage from her grandmother,[3][4] she was the second and younger child of Diane and Michael Haughton.[3] At a young age, Aaliyah was enrolled in voice lessons by her mother,[2] and she would perform at weddings, church choir and charity events.[5] When she was five years old, her family moved to Detroit, Michigan, where she was raised along with her older brother, Rashad.[6][7] She attended a Catholic school, Gesu Elementary, where she received a part in the stage play Annie in first grade. From then on, she was determined to become an entertainer.[8] Aaliyah's mother was a vocalist, and her uncle, Barry Hankerson, was an entertainment lawyer who had been married to Gladys Knight.[7] 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.[2][9] She then auditioned for several record labels and appeared in concerts alongside Knight at age 11.[7][10]


1991–95: Age Ain't Nothing but a Number

After Hankerson signed a distribution deal with Jive Records, he signed Aaliyah to his Blackground Records label at the age of 12.[11][12] Hankerson later introduced her to recording artist and producer R. Kelly,[10] who became Aaliyah's mentor, as well as lead songwriter and producer of the album, which was recorded when she was 14.[2][12][13] Released in June 1994, the album peaked at number 18 on the Billboard 200 and sold over three million copies in the United States.[14][15] 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.[1][16] 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.[1][16] The title track, "Age Ain't Nothing but a Number", peaked at number 75 on the Hot 100.[1] Additionally, she released "The Thing I Like" as part of the soundtrack to the 1994 film A Low Down Dirty Shame.[17]

1996–99: One in a Million

In 1996, Aaliyah left Jive Records and signed to Atlantic Records.[10] She worked with record producers Timbaland and Missy Elliott, who contributed to her second studio album, One in a Million.[7] The album yielded the single "If Your Girl Only Knew", which topped the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs for two weeks.[1] 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".[20] One in a Million peaked at number 18 on the Billboard 200,[14] selling over 3.7 million copies in the United States and over eight million copies worldwide.[21][22]

Aaliyah attended the Detroit High School for the Performing Arts, where she majored in drama and graduated in 1997.[10][23][24] Aaliyah began her acting career that same year; she played herself in the police drama television series New York Undercover.[25] During this time, Aaliyah participated in the Children's Benefit Concert, a charity concert that took place at the Beacon Theatre in New York.[26] 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.[17][22][27] Aaliyah performed the song at the 1998 Academy Awards ceremony and became the youngest singer to perform at the event.[28][29] Later on that year Tommy Hilfiger gave her an endorsement deal, part of her deal was to model at various Tommy Hilfiger shows. The song "Are You That Somebody?" was featured on the Dr. Dolittle soundtrack. "Are You That Somebody?" was in the midst of its chart run when Billboard changed its policy to allow airplay-only singles to chart on the Hot 100 and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop charts. It climbed to number four on the Hot 100 Airplay chart and number one on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart. The single peaked at number 21 on the Billboard Hot 100.

2000–01: Romeo Must Die and eponymous album

In 2000, Aaliyah landed her first major movie role in Romeo Must Die. A loose adaptation of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, 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.[30] In addition to acting, Aaliyah served as an executive producer of the film soundtrack, where she contributed four songs.[31] "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.[1][32] The music video won the Best Female Video and Best Video from a Film awards at the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards.[33] It also earned her a Grammy Award nomination for Best Female R&B Vocalist.[34] The soundtrack went on to sell 1.5 million copies in the United States.[35]

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".[12] She was scheduled to film for the sequels of The Matrix as the character Zee.[10][36] Aaliyah went on to release her eponymous album, Aaliyah, in July 2001. Produced by Timbaland,[2] the album debuted at number two on the Billboard 200, selling 187,000 copies in its first week.[37] The first single from the album, "We Need a Resolution", peaked at number 59 on the Billboard Hot 100.[1]

Musical style and image

Aaliyah had a vocal range of a dramatic soprano.[10] 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."[39] Aaliyah described her sound as "street but sweet", which featured her "gentle" vocals over a "hard" beat.[40] Though Aaliyah did not write any of her own material,[10] her lyrics were described as in-depth.[41][42] She incorporated R&B, pop and hip hop into her music.[7][43] Her songs were often uptempo and melancholy, revolving around "matters of the heart".[44] Her songs have been said to have "crisp production" and "staccato arrangements" that "extend genre boundaries" while containing "old-school" soul music. When she experimented with other genres, such as Latin pop and heavy metal, writers panned the attempt.[44] As her albums progressed, writers felt that Aaliyah matured, calling her progress a "declaration of strength and independence".[38][42] 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.[42] She portrayed "unfamiliar sounds, styles and emotions", but managed to please critics with the contemporary sound it contained.[42] Ernest Hardy of Rolling Stone felt that Aaliyah reflected a stronger technique, where she gave her best vocal performance.[45] Others felt that she was "satisfying rather than extraordinary", stating that she added little to modern R&B.[46][47]

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.[48] Aaliyah expressed that Michael Jackson's Thriller was her "favorite album" and that "nothing will ever top Thriller."[48] 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."[48] 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."[48][49][50][51] 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.[48]

Aaliyah focused on her public image throughout her career. She often wore baggy clothes and sunglasses, stating that she wanted to be herself.[52] She described her image as being "important… to differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack".[53] She often wore black clothing, starting a trend for similar fashion among women in United States and Japan.[10][54] 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".[54] When she changed her hairstyle, Aaliyah took her mother's advice to cover her left eye, much like Veronica Lake.[55] In 1998, she hired a personal trainer to keep in shape, and exercised five days a week and ate diet foods.[56] Aaliyah was praised for her "clean-cut image" and "moral values".[57]

Personal life

With the release of Age Ain't Nothing but a Number, rumors circulated of a relationship between Aaliyah and R. Kelly.[10][58] 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.[59] Vibe magazine later revealed a marriage certificate that listed the couple married on August 31, 1994, in Sheraton Gateway Suites in Rosemont, Illinois.[10][59] 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.[13][59][60] The pair continued to deny marriage allegations, stating that neither was married.[58] 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.[61]

Death, funeral and wrongful death lawsuit

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 Marsh Harbour, Abaco Islands, The Bahamas, to travel to the airport in Opa-locka, Florida, after they completed filming the music video for the single "Rock the Boat".[62] 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. The whole party and all of the equipment were accommodated on board.[63] 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.[64]

The plane crashed shortly after takeoff, about 200 feet (60 m) from the runway.[62] 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.[65]

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.[66] The coroner theorized that, even if Aaliyah had survived the crash, her recovery would have been virtually impossible given the severity of her injuries.[67] 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."[68] It indicated that the pilot was not approved to pilot 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.[69] Additionally, an autopsy performed on Morales revealed traces of cocaine and alcohol in his system.[70] 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.[68] John Frank of the Cessna Pilots Association stated that the plane was "definitely overloaded".[71]

An open gate revealing the road to enter a cemetery, surrounded by grass, flowers and trees.
The entrance to Ferncliff Cemetery, where Aaliyah is interred in a crypt

Aaliyah's funeral was held on August 31, 2001, at the Saint Ignatius Loyola Church in New York. Her body was set in a silver casket, which was carried in a glass hearse and was drawn by horse.[72] An estimated 800 mourners were in attendance of the procession.[13][73] Among those in attendance at the private ceremony were Missy Elliott, Timbaland, Gladys Knight, Lil' Kim and Sean Combs.[72][74][75] After the service, 22 white doves were released to symbolize each year of Aaliyah's life.[76] She was interred in a crypt in a private room in the Rosewood Mausoleum at the Ferncliff Cemetery.[77]

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.[78] 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.[79][80]

Aftermath and posthumous recognition

The week after Aaliyah's death, her third studio album, Aaliyah, rose from number 19 to number one on the Billboard 200.[81] "Rock the Boat" was released as a posthumous single. The music video premiered on Black Entertainment Television's Access Granted; it became the most viewed and highest rated episode in the history of the show.[82] The song peaked at number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number two on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.[83] 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.[84] The following two singles from Aaliyah, "More than a Woman" and "I Care 4 U", peaked within the top 25 of the Billboard Hot 100.[83] The album was certified double Platinum by the RIAA and sold 2.95 million copies in the United States.[16][85][86]"More than a Woman" reached number one in the UK singles chart making Aaliyah the first deceased artist to reach number one in the UK single chart, with their first UK release. The song "More than a Woman" was replaced by George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" which is the only time in the UK singles chart history where a dead artist has replaced another dead artist at number one.[87]

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.[88] 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.[89][90] It grossed US$15.2 million in its first weekend, ranking number one at the box office.[91] On the first anniversary of Aaliyah's death, a candlelight vigil was held in Times Square, where millions of fans observed a moment of silence. Throughout the United States, radio stations played her music in remembrance.[92] 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 Cancer Research Program and Harlem's Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.[93] It debuted at number three on the Billboard 200, selling 280,000 copies in its first week.[94] 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.[83] In August of the following year, clothing retailer Christian Dior donated profits from sales in honor of Aaliyah.[95]

Aaliyah was signed to appear in several future films, including Honey (recast to Jessica Alba).[96] Some Kind of Blue and a Whitney Houston-produced remake of the 1976 film Sparkle were canceled due to Aaliyah's death.[4][97] 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.[20] The role was later recast to Nona Gaye.[36] Aaliyah's scenes were later included in the tribute section of the Matrix Ultimate Collection series.[98] In 2005, Aaliyah's second compilation album, Ultimate Aaliyah was released in the UK by Blackground Records.[99] Ultimate Aaliyah is a three disc set, which included a greatest hits audio CD and a DVD.[99] 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."[99]

A documentary movie Aaliyah Live In Amsterdam was released in 2011. The documentary, by Pogus Caesar, contained previously unseen footage shot at the start of her career in 1995 when the then 16-year-old was appearing in the Netherlands.


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."[41][100] 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."[101] Described as one of "R&B's most important artists" during the 1990s,[102] her second studio album, One in a Million, became one of the most influential R&B albums of the decade.[18] According to Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine, Aaliyah provided a "missing link" between hip hop and electronica.[103] With sales of 8.1 million albums in the United States and an estimated 24 to 32 million albums worldwide,[104][105][106] Aaliyah has been named the "Princess of R&B" and "Queen Of Urban Pop" [107][108] and "proved she was a muse in her own right".[109] Ernest Hardy of Rolling Stone dubbed her as the "undisputed queen of the midtempo come-on".[12]

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.[110] In the same year, the United States Social Security Administration ranked the name Aaliyah one of the 100 most popular names for newborn girls.[111] Aaliyah was ranked as one of "The Top 40 Women of the Video Era" in VH1's 2003 The Greatest series.[112][113] She was also ranked at number 18 on BET's "Top 25 Dancers of All Time".[114] Aaliyah has also appeared on both 2000 and 2001 list of Maxim Hot 100 in position 41 and the latter at 14.[115][116] In memory of Aaliyah, the Entertainment Industry Foundation created the Aaliyah Memorial Fund to donate money raised to charities she supported.[117][118] In December 2009, Billboard magazine ranked Aaliyah at number 70 on its Top Artists of the Decade,[119] while her eponymous album was ranked at number 181 on the magazine's Top 200 Albums of the Decade.[120]



Film and television credits
Title Year Medium Role Notes
New York Undercover 1997 TV series Herself 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

See also


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Pogus Caesar premieres his Aaliyah Live In Amsterdam movie in Birmingham


  • Farley, John (2002). Aaliyah: More Than a Woman. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7434-5566-5. 
  • Kenyatta, Kelly (2002). An R&B Princess in Words and Pictures. Amber Books Publishing. ISBN 0-9702224-3-2. 
  • Simmonds, Jeremy (2008). The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars. Chicago Review Press. ISBN 1-55652-754-3. 
  • Sutherland, William (2005). Aaliyah Remembered. Trafford Publishing. ISBN 1-4120-5062-6. [unreliable source?]

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