Detroit — If you're like me, who was born and raised in Detroit, you know the lasting presence and legacy our beloved Aaliyah left and the love that we have for her.
She was taken away from the world too soon. Every August is bittersweet. Not just because it is a reminder of her death, but also it’s a time to reflect and celebrate her musical legacy.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of her death. She, along with eight others, died in a plane crash on Aug. 25, 2001 in the Bahamas after completing the music video for “Rock the Boat.” She was 22.
Aaliyah Dana Haughton was born Jan. 16, 1979, in Brooklyn, New York, but her family relocated to Detroit when she was 5. She started performing at a young age in plays and even national shows such as “Star Search.” Her passion was for music, so she auditioned for the Detroit High School for the Fine and Performing Arts in 1993. For her audition she sang the song "Ave Maria" in its entirety in Italian. Although she auditioned for the vocal department, she later switched it to dance.
As a fellow alumni of Detroit School of Arts (DSA), walking the halls (and sometimes the city), I would often run into her former teachers and classmates. Quite often our conversation turned to reminiscing about the late singer. It was universal; everyone always had amazing things to say about their interactions with her. My music theory teacher, Ms.Valentine described Aaliyah having a very pleasant spirit and being a great person.
When the school expanded, they made sure to make a place for Aaliyah. The new building included a performance space dedicated to her, the Aaliyah Memorial Recital Hall, which is a beautiful, sleek hall with a huge black grand piano. The hall was created for future generations of students who walk the hallways and for those seeking inspiration. In addition, Aaliyah’s portrait on the first floor painted by Jonathan Mannion portrait would always greet you as you entered the school.
For this 20th anniversary, Metro-Detroit’s Channel 4 produced a TV special. Aaliyah’s music director Kern Brantley, local Pastor Marvin Winans of Perfecting Church, Damon Dash and more recalled their close connections as well as heartfelt memories of Aaliyah. And local radio stations WJLB and 105.1 FM The Bounce have her songs in heavy rotation.
Throughout the last two decades, her presence in music and the culture never waned.
From Halloween costumes, inspired makeup looks — MAC had an Aaliyah line — fashion, social media fan pages with constant images of her beauty and effortless style surfacing throughout the internet it sometimes feels as if she is still here. Her music is one of the most featured and sampled in songs such as Tink’s “Million,” or Chris Brown’s “Don’t Think They Know” just to name a few. And many artists of today credit Aaliyah as their inspirations like Ciara and Ryan Destiny.