She was what Diana Ross had been to Detroit girls decades earlier.
Known to most only by her first name, Aaliyah Dana Haughton was the local kid who’d made big on her dreams, inspiring countless teenagers to imitate her styles of dress and performance.
At a time when the other finger on a handful of superstars produced by Detroit’s music scene since Ross and Motown was a White rapper called Eminem, she caught fire. Yet, on the anniversary of Aaliyah’s d eath in a 2001 plane crash, the city she called home remembered her as more than an entertainer.
“We were six months apart in age and, even though I wasn’t her biggest fan, I did like her music, was proud of her success as a girl from the D, and was sad when she died…” Dina Peace, Web editor of the Michigan Chronicle newspaper, wrote in her Aug. 25 essay. “Detroit will always have love in its heart for Aaliyah.”
Long-time radio D.J. John Mason shared with the media his fondest memory of Aaliyah the teenager, who was still attending Detroit’s Academy of the Performing Arts when she had her first hit song “Back and Forth” in heavy rotation, plus a hit video: The dedicated student had been in tears, recalls Mason, over the fact that she’d earned a “B” in one of her classes, killing her hopes of a 4.0 grade average one semester. She later graduated with the 4.0 that had eluded her.
Attending the prom and managing a semblance of an average Detroit girl’s happy youth, she still battled rumors, not unlike many of her peers. One in particular, however, haunted her until she died, still barely out of her teens – Aaliyah denied wedding her musical mentor R. Kelly, despite the fact that an Illinois marriage license later named the two.
Regardless, among admirers in her hometown and everywhere, the entertainer is remembered this week for not only her sweet voice, but for what most say was a matching disposition. Posted to the Aaliyah Memorial Fund Web site on the anniversary of her death was the message: “We, the Haughton Family, would like to express our heartfelt thanks to all of Aaliyah’s fans who keep her in their hearts and prayers.”