Born on January 16, 1979, in Brooklyn, New York, and was the younger child of Diane and Michael Haughton. She was African American, and was said to have Native American (Oneida) heritage from a grandmother.
Her name has been described as a female version of the Arabic “Ali”; however, the original Arabic and Jewish name “Aliya ” derived from the Hebrew word “aliyah “, and meant “highest, most exalted one, the best.”
Regardless of origin, the singer was highly fond of her Semitic name, expressing support by calling it “beautiful” and asserting that she was “very proud of it,” and she thus spent her entire life striving to live up to her name every day.
At a young age, Aaliyah was enrolled in voice lessons by her mother. She started performing at weddings, church choir and charity events.
When she was five years old, her family moved to Detroit, Michigan, where she was raised along with her older brother, Rashad.
She attended a Catholic school, Gesu Elementary, where in first grade, she received a part in the stage play Annie. From then on, she was determined to become an entertainer.
Aaliyah’s mother was a vocalist, and her uncle, Barry Hankerson, was an entertainment lawyer who had been married to Gladys Knight.
As a child, Aaliyah traveled with Knight and worked with an agent in New York to audition for commercials and television programs, including Family Matters; she went on to appear on Star Search at the age of ten.
Aaliyah chose to begin auditioning while her mother made the decision to have her surname dropped. She auditioned for several record labels and at age 11 appeared in concerts alongside Knight. She had several pet animals in during her childhood, which included ducks, snakes and iguanas.
In 1994, at the age of 15, Aaliyah catapulted onto the R&B charts herself with her debut album, Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number.
Produced by the successful singer R. Kelly, 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).”
In 2000, Aaliyah made her acting debut in the surprise action hit Romeo Must Die, starring opposite martial arts star Jet Li in a Romeo and Juliet-inspired story set in modern-day Los Angeles.
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.