AALIYAH: Latest Victim of Crashes That Cut Short Fame

Ebony, November 2001 | Go to article overview

AALIYAH: Latest Victim of Crashes That Cut Short Fame


A modern R&B fairy tale ended tragically when the small airplane carrying singer Aaliyah and her entourage crashed on a grassy field near a Bahamian hillside, killing all eight persons aboard.

The fiery crash, which ended the meteoric rise of a 22-year-old singer and actress who was just coming into an adulthood of limitless possibilities, touched a sensitive chord in America and set off six days of mourning, including a moving candlelight vigil at the Detroit high school from which she had graduated only four years ago.

After tributes and memorials in Los Angeles, Detroit and other cities, she was celebrated at a Manhattan funeral, attended by the royalty of rock, hip-hop, and R&B. As millions of TV viewers watched, her cream-colored, silver-plated coffin was carried through New York's Upper East Side in a horse-drawn, glass-paneled hearse. More than 800 mourners, including singers Scan (Puffy) Combs, Usher, Jay-Z, Lil' Kim and Aaliyah's aunt, Gladys Knight, joined boxer Mike Tyson and actor Chris Rock to pay final respects at the hour-long, invitation-only funeral.

After the service, Aaliyah's mother, Diane Haughton, released 29 white doves--symbolizing each year of the young star's life--as hundreds of sobbing and cheering fans serenaded her casket with the title track of her second album, One In A Million.

Some say she was one in many millions. Born Aaliyah Dana Haughton in Brooklyn on Jan. 16, 1979, and reared in Detroit, she became known simply as Aaliyah, which means "highest and most exalted one" in Arabic. True to her name, she sparkled in the spotlight even as a child. Her mother was a singer, and the youngster showed talent from the time she could talk and walk. At age 6 she appeared in a production of the musical, Annie; by 9 she was singing in church and professionally, and at 11, she performed on Star Search, and in Las Vegas with soul legend Gladys Knight, who was married then to Aaliyah's uncle, Barry Hankerson.

In her early teens, Hankerson signed Aaliyah to his Blackground records. Through Hankerson, the young Aaliyah met R&B star R. Kelly, who became her musical mentor and produced her first album, the platinum Age Ain't Nothing But a Number (1994). Though they did not make it public, it was reported that Aaliyah and Kelly married in August 1994 in Chicago, when, according to official documents, Aaliyah was just 15. Kelly was 27. It seems she misrepresented her age. Reports said her parents quickly had the marriage annulled. Throughout her short career, Aaliyah never discussed her relationship with Kelly.

While pursuing her career, she also graduated with honors from the Detroit High School for the Fine and Performing Arts, releasing a second hit album, One in a Million, during her senior year. During that time, she also performed the song "Journey to the Past" from the soundtrack of the animated Anastasia. The song was nominated for an Academy Award.

Aaliyah ventured into films and landed a co-starring role opposite Jet Li in the action movie Romeo Must Die, which was released in 2000. Her Grammy-nominated hit "Try Again" from the sound track continues to be a favorite with fans. She also recorded hits for a number of other soundtracks.

Last summer, Aaliyah released her third album, which quickly rose to the top of the record charts. (It also resurged and achieved the No. 1 spot after her death.) While making the new album, the busy, ambitious artist also filmed her starring role in the supernatural adventure film, The Queen of the Damned, yet to be released. She already had won coveted roles in two sequels to The Matrix movie. …

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