Aaliyah: A ‘Can’t-Miss’ Career Cut Short by Tragedy

Posted in MusicWorld on November 30, 2001 by

The name Aaliyah means "the highest, most exalted, the best" in Swahili.

The singer and actress Aaliyah seemed on course to living up to this description when she died tragically last August. She and her entourage were on their way back from a video shoot in the Bahamas when their light aircraft crashed.

The 22-year-old Detroit native appeared on the cusp of true stardom. Her death coincided with the release of her third album, which had garnered rapturous reviews from publications such as Rolling Stone and Spin. Her persona on the album is self-assured, sensual and sometimes vulnerable.

Aaliyah's ability to tackle infectious ballads as well as harder numbers like the techno-industrial tinged exercise "What If" and the funky R&B-oriented "Extra Smooth" made her a versatile, infectious talent.

The Aaliyah album climbed to the top of the U.S. charts after her death, but, unfortunately, it will forever remain a mystery just how far she might have taken her promising career had she lived.

Aaliyah had already blossomed into a multi-pronged talent when she was barely out of her teens. Her supermodel looks helped her cross over into acting, where she quickly showed that she belonged on the silver screen. She made her feature film debut in Romeo Must Die, which starred Jet Li. Her performance of the song "Try Again" from the film's soundtrack went to the top of the U.S. singles chart in June 2000.

She subsequently landed a key role in the movie Queen of the Damned, which is based on Ann Rice's "Vampire Chronicles," and is scheduled for released in early 2002.

Indeed, her acting career was definitely on the fast track. Aaliya was cast in the highly anticipated film sequels Matrix 2 and Matrix 3. She had already done some initial shooting for these projects and was scheduled to continue work on the movies in early 2002.

Because of her acting commitments, Aaliyah's music career proceeded at a slower pace than usual, which actually may have been a blessing, considering how young she was when she recorded her first album.

Aaliyah was just 14 in 1994 when she released her debut album, Age Ain't Nothing But A Number, produced by R. Kelly. The disc spawned the U.S. Top 10 singles "Back & Forth" and "At Your Best (You Are Love)." At the time she was a student at the Detroit Performing Arts High School.

In 1996, Aaliyah's second album, the Timbaland-produced One In a Million, was released and it proved that she was no one-hit wonder. The first single, "If Your Girl Only Knew," went double platinum.

She subsequently scored a big hit in 1998 with "Are You That Somebody" from the Dr. Dolittle soundtrack and she sang "Journey To the Past" from the film Anastasia at the Academy Awards that same year.

"I don't think about my previous success," she told a reporter just prior to her death. "I'm happy that the work I've done in the past has been very successful. All I can do is leave it in God's hands and hope my fans feel where I'm coming from."


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