Singer, actress Aaliyah was born Dana Haughton, on January 16, 1979, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
The youngest child of Diane and Michael Haughton, Aaliyah means “highest, most exalted one” in Arabic. When Aaliyah was five years old, her family moved to Detroit, Michigan, where she was raised along with her older brother, Rashad.
Aaliyah’s mother was a vocalist and her uncle, Barry Hankerson, was an entertainment lawyer who was previously married to the singer Gladys Knight.
As a child, Aaliyah traveled with Knight and worked with an agent in New York auditioning for commercials and television programs. She appeared on Star Search at the age of nine. By age 12, Aaliyah was signed to Jive Records and Blackground Records. Barry Hankerson, owner of Blackground Records, introduced Aaliyah to R. Kelly, who became her mentor, lead songwriter and the producer of her debut album, Age Ain’t Nothing.
The album quickly sold a million copies and eventually earned platinum status based largely on the success of two hit singles, “Back and Forth” and “At Your Best (You Are Love).”
After facing allegations of an illegal marriage with Kelly, Aaliyah left Jive and signed to Atlantic Records.
At age 17 and while a student in the dance program at Detroit High School for the Fine and Performing Arts, Aaliyah released her sophomore album, One in a Million (1996), which sold two million copies.
Her next soundtrack effort, “Are You That Somebody?” for 1998’s Dr. Dolittle, starring Eddie Murphy, went to No. 1 on the R&B charts, was a pop crossover hit and earned Aaliyah her first Grammy Award nomination.
In 2000, Aaliyah made her acting debut in the surprise action hit Romeo Must Die, a Romeo and Juliet-inspired story set in modern-day Los Angeles starring opposite martial arts star Jet Li.
She was also an executive producer of the movie’s soundtrack and performed the hit single “Try Again,” which netted her a second Grammy nomination as well as two MTV Music Video Awards for “Best Female Video” and “Best Video From a Film.”
Her third album, Aaliyah, was released in July 2001 and reached No. 2 on the Billboard album chart. Also in 2001, she played the title role in Queen of the Damned, based on the bestselling novel by Anne Rice and set for release in 2002.
Tragically, Aaliyah was killed on August 25, 2001, when a small Cessna passenger plane headed for Miami, Florida carrying the singer and her video crew crashed and burst into flames shortly after takeoff from Abaco Island in the Bahamas, where they had just completed work on a video. Aaliyah was 22 years old at the time of her death.
Following her death, her eponymous album, Aaliyah, went from number 19 to number one on the Billboard 200. The album was certified double Platinum by the RIAA and sold 2.5 million copies in the United States.
In 2001, the United States Social Security Administration ranked the name “Aaliyah” one of the 100 most popular names for newborn girls. Aaliyah has been credited for helping redefine hip hop in the 1990s.
Aaliyah was voted one of “The Top 40 Women of the Video Era” in VH1’s The Greatest. Aaliyah recently ranked at number 18 on BET’s “Top 25 Dancers of All Time” and ranked at number four on BET’s “Top 25 Sexiest Women of all Time”.
Aaliyah has sold 8.1 million albums in the United States and over 24 million albums worldwide.
Aaliyah, on behalf of Brooklyn, we acknowledge your vast contributions to music, film and black history. You will be remembered always!
February is Black History Month! Every day this month, BK Reader will profile one Black History Maker born or raised in Brooklyn. There are countless Brooklynites– past and present– who have contributed to America’s fabric as pioneers or leaders in art, entertainment, sports, science and government. This month, we present to you 28! Click here to see all of the profiles.
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