Aaliyah

Aaliyah Haughton, singer and actress: born New York 16 January 1979; died Marsh Harbour, the Bahamas 25 August 2001.

Aaliyah Haughton, singer and actress: born New York 16 January 1979; died Marsh Harbour, the Bahamas 25 August 2001.

"One of the most misleading things about being famous is the idea that everything associated with fame is fun and glamorous. Sure, I get to travel to new places, but I have jet lag," Aaliyah told Seventeen magazine in 1997. Four years later, the rhythm 'n' blues singer was killed in a plane crash after a video shoot in the Bahamas. She was 22.

Aaliyah was at the forefront of the Nineties' mainstream acceptance of R&B which now sees acts like Destiny's Child and 3LW go straight into the US and UK pop charts. A teen idol who scored her first transatlantic hit with "Back and Forth" in 1994 at the age of 15 and remained a chart presence for the next seven years, she went on to model for the fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger and made her acting début last year opposite the Chinese martial arts legend Jet Li in the film Romeo Must Die.

Her winning combination of stunning sultry looks and girl-next-door appeal as well as her drive and determination had set Aaliyah on her way to Hollywood. She played the title role in the forthcoming movie adaptation of Anne Rice's novel The Queen of the Damned and was due to start shooting the sequel to The Matrix with Keanu Reeves.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1979, Aaliyah – pronounced Ah-Lee-Yah – owed her name to her parents Diane and Michael. While they called her brother Rashad, the prescient Haughtons picked Aaliyah for their daughter because, in Swahili, it meant "highest, most exalted one". In 1984, the family moved to Detroit and, the following year, Aaliyah made her stage début in a production of Annie. "I was acting, singing and dancing and it was heaven," she later admitted. "I've been singing all my life, I've always wanted this. This is what I was trained to do.

Indeed, singing in church, school plays and singing lessons proved only the first steps on the road to stardom. At the age of 11, and thanks to an introduction from her uncle Barry Hankerson, then married to Gladys Knight, Aaliyah was performing with the soul superstar in Las Vegas. Now managed by Hankerson, Aaliyah attended the Detroit High School for the Performing Arts. Between classes, the teenage prodigy appeared on Star Search and in television pilots, and auditioned for various record labels.

While she was in her second year, Hankerson introduced her to the singer and producer R. Kelly, whom he also represented. The pair seemed to hit it off. "The work was new to me and since Robert [R. Kelly] did have the experience, he basically laid out the album," said Aaliyah, rather coyly.

In fact, by the time Aaliyah's appropriately titled début album, Age Ain't Nothing but a Number, was released in 1994 thanks to a deal between Jive Records and Hankerson's own Blackground Enterprises label, rumours about a secret marriage between the under-age singer and R. Kelly had begun to circulate around the industry. Surrounded by an army of PRs and bodyguards, Aaliyah always refused to discuss the issue but VIBE magazine did find a marriage licence listing both performers' names issued in Illinois on 31 August 1994.

Whatever the truth behind the allegations, Aaliyah continued her education, graduating in 1997. She scored several hit singles in the UK with "Back and Forth", "(At Your Best) You Are Love", "Down with the Clique" and "The Thing I Like" as well as the title-track of her début album (a million-seller in the US).

In 1996, the singer silenced the rumours about her private life by moving to Atlantic Records and enlisting the support of producers such as Jermaine Dupri and Timbaland for her second album, One in a Million, which went double platinum in the US.

More recently praised for his work with Missy Elliott, Timbaland also produced "Are You That Somebody?", the transatlantic hit single Aaliyah contributed to the soundtrack of the film Doctor Dolittle starring Eddie Murphy in 1998. Timbaland was also one of the many producers behind Aaliyah's eponymously titled third album released this July on Virgin Records.

"It's fun to be creative and innovative and come up with something crazy. So I need people to work with who are not going to be afraid to take it to the left a bit," confessed the singer, who didn't write any of her material.

I like to have the final say but I was trained as a singer, actress and dancer, the interpreter, bringing other people's words to life. I need the songs to reflect me in one way or another.

Hearing her sensuous soprano drift over the staccato rhythms of last year's Grammy-nominated single "Try Again" – a Top Ten hit on both sides of the Atlantic – one can almost understand why Aaliyah could inspire an army of lookalikes in Japan. The song appeared in Romeo Must Die, a radical, hyper-violent take on starstruck lovers across the racial divide à la West Side Story in which she made her acting début.

In 1998, Aaliyah had already performed "Journey from the Past", the theme song from the animated movie Anastasia at the Oscars and seemed even more at home in Hollywood than on the front page of US teen magazines.

A fan of the horror writer Stephen King and movies such as Silence of the Lambs and The Lost Boys, Aaliyah especially relished her part in The Queen of the Damned. She described it as her

dream role. I play an ancient vampire, four centuries old. A manipulative, crazy, sexual being. I have an affinity for edgy things. There's a bit of a dark side to me.

However, this diva in the making wasn't afraid to admit that she liked "to laugh and be a silly girl. Sometimes, when it's just me and my mom kicking it, I say: I'm 22 and I've accomplished so much," reflected Aaliyah. "I just know that I have to appreciate every moment."

Pierre Perrone