Aaliyah Dana Haughton (January 16, 1979 ??? August 25, 2001), who performed under the mononym Aaliyah (pronounced ), was an American recording artist, actress and model. She was born in Brooklyn, New York, and was raised in Detroit, Michigan. At an early age, she appeared on the television show Star Search and performed in concert alongside Gladys Knight. At age 12, Aaliyah was signed to Jive Records and Blackground Records by her uncle, Barry Hankerson. He 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 two 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 Kelly, Aaliyah ended her contract with Jive and signed to Atlantic Records.
Aaliyah worked with record producers Timbaland and Missy Elliott for her second album, One in a Million; it sold two 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 filming Romeo Must Die, Aaliyah filmed her part in Queen of the Damned. She released her third and final album, Aaliyah, in 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 has achieved commercial success with several posthumous releases. Selling over 24 million records worldwide, she has been credited for helping redefine R&B and hip hop and has been named the "Queen of Urban Pop".
Life and career
1979???1990: Early life
Aaliyah Dana Haughton was born on January 16, 1979, in Brooklyn, New York City, New York. Born of African American and Native American descent, she was the second and youngest child of Diane and Michael Haughton. At a young age, Aaliyah was enrolled for voice lessons by her mother. 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 she received a part in the stage play Annie in first grade; from then on, she was determined to be an entertainer. Aaliyah's mother was a vocalist, and her uncle, Barry Hankerson, was an entertainment lawyer who was previously 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???1995: 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. 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. Released in June 1994, the album peaked at number 18 on the Billboard 200 and sold over two million copies in the United States. 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.
With the release of Age Ain't Nothing But a Number, rumors began to circulate of a relationship between Aaliyah and Kelly. Shortly after, rumors of a secret marriage began 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 allegedly 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 reportedly annulled in February 1995 by her parents. The pair continued to deny marriage allegations, stating that neither was married.
1996???1999: One in a Million
"If Your Girl Only Knew" (1996)
In her second album, Aaliyah was noted for having "smoother, more seductive, and stronger" singing.
In 1996, Aaliyah left Jive Records and signed to 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 two million copies in the United States and over eight million copies worldwide.
Aaliyah attended the Detroit High School for the Performing Arts, where she majored in drama and graduated in 1997 with a 4.0 grade point average. Aaliyah began her acting career that same year; she played herself in the police drama television series New York Undercover. She then released "The Thing I Like" from the soundtrack of A Low Down Dirty Shame; it peaked at number 33 on the UK Singles Chart. Aaliyah appeared 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 ceremony.
2000???2001: 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 $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 Romeo Must Die, Aaliyah began to film for her second film, Queen of the Damned. She had 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 went on to release her eponymous album, Aaliyah, in July 2001. Produced primarily by Timbaland, the album 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.
Plane crash, death 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 (N8097W) at Marsh Harbour, Abaco Islands, The Bahamas, to travel to an airport in Opa-locka, Florida, after they completed filming the music video for "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. They made the decision to leave immediately. Against the advice of baggage handlers and the pilot, all the equipment from the shoot was loaded on the plane. Therefore, the aircraft exceeded the standard weight and balance tolerance limit provided by Cessna.
The plane crashed shortly after takeoff, about 200 feet (60 m) from the runway. Aaliyah, 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 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. 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." It also 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. Additionally, an autopsy performed on Morales revealed traces of cocaine and alcohol in his system.
The entrance to Ferncliff Cemetery, where Aaliyah is interred
Further investigations determined the plane was over its total gross weight by 700 pounds and was loaded with one more passenger than it was allowed to carry. John Frank of the Cessna Pilots Association stated that the plane was "definitely overloaded". The NTSB reported that the total gross weight of the plane was "substantially exceeded", which caused the center of gravity to be pushed too far aft. Aaliyah's funeral was held on August 31, 2001, at the Saint Ignatius Loyola Church in New York, which was attended by over 800 mourners. After service, 22 white doves were released to symbolize each year of her life. Aaliyah was buried 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. In addition, Morales was not registered with the FAA to fly for Blackhawk. As a result of the accident, a wrongful death lawsuit was filed by Aaliyah's parents and was later 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 due to New York's wrongful death statute only permitting certain people to recover damages for wrongful death.
2001???2005: Posthumous career
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 was premiered on Black Entertainment Television'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 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 were donated to the Aaliyah Memorial Fund. 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. The album was certified double Platinum by the RIAA and sold 2.5 million copies in the United States.
She went on to win 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 part of her lines during post-production. It grossed $15.2 million in its first weekend, ranking number one at the box office. In December 2002, a collection of previously unreleased material was released as Aaliyah's first posthumous album, I Care 4 U. A portion of 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. 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 (recast to Jessica Alba). Some Kind of Blue and a Whitney Houston-produced remake of the 1976 film Sparkle were canceled due to Aaliyah's death. 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 later recast to Nona Gaye. With the release of the Matrix Ultimate Collection series, clips of Aaliyah were included in the tribute section.
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."
Musical style and image
"More Than a Woman" (2001)
As her albums progressed, music critics felt that Aaliyah had matured, noting a "near-flawless declaration of strength and independence".
Aaliyah had a 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 to be 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". Her songs have been said to have "crisp production" and "staccato arrangements" that "extend genre boundaries" while containing "old-school" soul music. When experimenting with other genres, such as Latin pop and heavy metal, writers 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. Others felt that she was "satisfying rather than extraordinary", stating that she added little to modern R&B.
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, 'N Sync, Korn, Britney Spears, The Notorious B.I.G., Prince, Naughty by Nature, Johnny Mathis and Janet Jackson. Aaliyah expressed that Michael Jackson's Thriller was her "favorite album" and that "othing 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 Janet Jackson???whom she had drawn frequent comparison to over the course of her career???was someone she had always desired to work with, 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.
Since the beginning of her career, Aaliyah focused on her public image. She often wore baggy clothes and sunglasses, stating that she "wanted to be me". She described her image as being "important??¦ to differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack". She often wore black clothing, which led women in the United States and Japan to utilize her look. 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, Aaliyah hired a personal trainer to keep in shape. She exercised five days a week and ate diet foods. Aaliyah was praised for her "clean-cut image" and "moral values".
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. According to Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine, Aaliyah provided a "missing link between hip-hop and electronica". Having sold 8.1 million albums in the United States and over 24 million records worldwide, Aaliyah has been named the "Queen of Urban Pop" and "prove she was a muse in her own right". Ernest Hardy of Rolling Stone dubbed her as the "undisputed queen of the midtempo come-on".
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" and "100 Sexiest Artists" in VH1's 2003 The Greatest series. She was also ranked at number 18 on BET's "Top 25 Dancers of All Time". In memory of Aaliyah, the Entertainment Industry Foundation created the Aaliyah Memorial Fund to donate money raised to charities she supported.