Born in Brooklyn and raised in Detroit, she first gained recognition at the age of 10, when she appeared on the television show Star Search and performed in concert alongside Gladys Knight. At the age of 12, Aaliyah signed with Jive Records and her uncle Barry Hankerson's Blackground Records. Hankerson 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 three 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 with Atlantic Records.
Aaliyah worked with record producers Timbaland and Missy Elliott for her second album, One in a Million, which sold three million copies in the United States and more than eight million copies worldwide. In 2000, Aaliyah appeared in her first 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 goal. After completing Romeo Must Die, Aaliyah filmed her role in Queen of the Damned, and released, in 2001, her self-titled third and final studio album, which topped the Billboard 200.
On August 25, 2001, Aaliyah died at the age of 22 in an airplane accident in the Bahamas, when the badly overloaded aircraft she was traveling in crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all nine on board. The pilot was later found to have traces of cocaine and alcohol in his body, and was not qualified to fly the aircraft designated for the flight. Aaliyah's family later filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the aircraft's operator, Blackhawk International Airways, which was settled out of court. In the decades since her death, Aaliyah's music has continued to achieve commercial success, aided by several posthumous releases, and she has sold an estimated 24 to 32 million albums worldwide. Her accolades include three American Music Awards and two MTV VMAs, along with five Grammy Award nominations. Billboard lists her as the tenth most successful female R&B artist of the past 25 years, and the 27th most successful in history.
With the release of Age Ain't Nothing but a Number, rumors circulated of a relationship between Aaliyah and R. Kelly,including the allegation that they had secretly married without her parents' knowledge.Vibe later revealed a marriage certificate that listed the couple 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 annulled in February 1995 by her parents.The pair continued to deny marriage allegations, stating that neither was married.
Aaliyah reportedly developed a friendship with Kelly during the recording of her debut album. As she recalled to Vibe magazine in 1994, she and Kelly would "go watch a movie" and "go eat" when she got tired and would then "come back and work." She described the relationship between her and Kelly as being "rather close." In 2016, Kelly said that he was as in love with Aaliyah as he was with "anybody else."In December 1994, Aaliyah told the Sun-Times that whenever she was asked about being married to Kelly, she urged them not to believe "all that mess" and that she and Kelly were "close" and "people took it the wrong way." In his 2011 book The Man Behind the Man: Looking From the Inside Out, Demetrius Smith Sr., a former member of Kelly's entourage, wrote that Kelly told him "in a voice that sounded as if he wanted to burst into tears" that he thought Aaliyah was pregnant.
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