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Aaliyah (January 16, 1979 – August 25, 2001)

Aaliyah Dana Haughton was born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in Detroit, Michigan. At age 11, young Aaliyah competed on Star Search, though she didn’t win that evening, her amazing talent won out in the end. Later that same year, Aaliyah performed a five-night stand with R&B music legend Gladys Knight in Las Vegas. (Knight was the former wife of Aaliyah’s uncle and manager Barry Hankerson.) At age 12, Aaliyah scored her record deal with Jive. In 1994, Aaliyah released and burst onto the charts with her debut album, Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number, which was only produced by R&B superstar R. Kelly. The album quickly sold a million copies, was certified Platinum and introduced Aaliyah to the world via the singles Back and Forth and a soulful cover of At Your Best (You Are Love), originally sang by The Isley Brothers. Also very quickly, Aaliyah found herself tabloid fodder for a rumored marriage to Kelly, which her camp has always denied, though there does seem to be documented evidence of an annulment.

Her sophomore album, One in a Million was released in 1996. This time it was music phenom Timbaland (and rapper Missy Elliott) who took control of Aaliyah’s music career. One in a Million continued Aaliyah’s R&B dominance by selling two million copies and favorable reviews. In 1997 and 1998, Aaliyah went the soundtrack route for Anastasia and Dr. Doolittle (the songs Journey to the Past and Are You That Somebody?). Are You That Somebody? went straight to the top of the R&B chart and earned Aaliyah her first Grammy nomination.

Not content to just dominate music, Aaliyah turned her attention to acting in 2000. She made her acting debut in the action hit Romeo Must Die alongside martial arts star Jet Li. Aaliyah was executive producer of the soundtrack which featured her hit, Try Again (which was everywhere in 2000!) Try Again earned Aaliyah another Grammy nomination. In July 2001, her third, self-titled album was released. She also starred in Queen of the Damned. Just before her death, Aaliyah was signed to appear in the upcoming two sequels of The Matrix.

On August 25, 2001, Aaliyah was in the Bahamas shooting a music video for Rock the Boat, the third single from the album. She and the video crew had completed filming of this video, but shortly after takeoff, the small Cessna passenger plane carrying the young singer and the crew crashed and burst into flames. They had been bound for Miami. Aaliyah, the pilot and seven other people were killed instantly. A ninth passenger was able to make it to a Bahamian hospital before perishing as well. Aaliyah was only 22 years old. In the ensuing years there have been many debates about whether the small plane was too overloaded and if the tragic accident could have been avoided. Aaliyah was survived by her parents and her older brother.

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