Happy 40th Birthday Aaliyah: A Look Back At An R&B Icon Gone Too Soon

Years after her death, she remains one of R&B's most formidable artists. RIP BabyGirl.

Aaliyah Dana Haughton burst onto the music scene in the 1990s with a hit debut album, "Age Ain't Nothing But A Number." She was 15 at the time, a fact that soon proved tragically ironic.

Her album went on to sell three million copies in the United States, and six million copies worldwide, propelling her to near instant fame and critical acclaim. That fame and her career were cut short when a plane crash in 2001 ended her life at age 22.

Today would have been her 40th birthday, and so we celebrate a musical phenom and arguably one of R&B's most formidable artists with a look at some facts about the singer you might not know.

A star is born

Born in Brooklyn, NY, Aaliyah moved to Detroit, MI, with her family at age five. Here, she grew up singing with her mother, and at age 11, she opened for her aunt Gladys Knight in Las Vegas — the OG queen of Motown best known for various hits with her group the Pips.

At age 10, she appeared on the music discovery show, "Star Search." She chose to sing the song "My Funny Valentine" from the musical "Babes in Arms." She said of the choice, "[It] was my mommy's song ... so, that song is special to me because of her." She didn't win, but earned a 3.25 out of 4 score from the judges.

Watch Aaliyah's "Star Search" performance. Story continues below.

Surviving R.Kelly

In 1994, Aaliyah, 15, married disgraced Chicago R&B kingpin R. Kelly, who was 27 at the time. She denied it at the time, but a falsified marriage certificate was found in a Chicago county clerk's office. The marriage was annulled two months later, shortly after the release of Aaliyah's questionably titled debut album, "Age Ain't Nothing but a Number," produced by Kelly.

Details of the inappropriate and illegal relationship are revealed in the notorious "Surviving R. Kelly," a six-part Lifetime documentary detailing sexual abuse allegations against Kelly, which has recently set off a torrent of backlash against him.

Aaliyah was "One in a Million," watch her belt this hit tune. Story continues below.

A star pupil with a budding acting career

Despite her bubbling music career and the controversy surrounding the marriage during her teen years, Aaliyah still managed to graduate from the Detroit High School for the Performing Arts with a 4.0 GPA.

In 1996, her second album, "One in a Million," which sold two million copies, launched its producer-songwriter team, two largely unknown figures at the time named Timbaland and Missy Elliott, to stardom.

Aaliyah began modelling for Tommy Hilfiger and taking acting lessons, which led to a starring role in "Romeo Must Die" in 2000 with actor Jet Li. Her soundtrack single, "Try Again," reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and landed her a Grammy Award nomination for Best Female R&B Vocalist.

After "Romeo Must Die," Aaliyah began filming "Queen of the Damned." She had also been cast in both of the upcoming sequels to "The Matrix," which she had started shooting in L.A. And she was supposed to play the lead in the dance film "Honey," released in 2003 and whose starring role was filled by Jessica Alba.

Aaliyah became the youngest artist ever to perform at the Oscars in 1998 when she was 19. Her song "Journey to the Past," which appeared on the soundtrack to "Anastasia," was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. But that nomination was overshadowed by her performance of the song at the event.

A talent with varied interests

Aaliyah almost had a song produced by Trent Reznor, whom she reached out to in 1999, citing her love of rock music and appreciation for his group, Nine Inch Nails. Unfortunately, she died before that song came to fruition.

Aaliyah was a big fan of J.K Rowling's Harry Potter books. In an interview with Vibe that took place at a bowling alley just months before she died, Aaliyah said that after the interview she would be going home to read her Harry Potter book.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article indicated that Aaliyah was filming "Queen of The Damned" in 2002. She had filmed the movie from 2000-2001.

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