My birthday is August 24th, and in 2001 it fell on a Friday. I had a huge party for my birthday that year. I had it at a nightclub in PG County at a hotel, and I had a bunch of out of town guests as well as local ones. Ton of people, lots of food and drinks and cake. I got a LOT of CDs for my birthday that year, and one thing I got was a copy of Aaliyah’s self titled third CD, which had come out the month before.
I was really excited to listen to it, and I unwrapped it and popped it into the CD player of my girlfriend’s car as we rode home from the party the next morning. I had always been an Aaliyah fan, and this project had promised to showcase a more mature, womanly, sensual artist. And it did not disappoint, particularly with the song “Rock The Boat”, which quickly became my favorite track behind “We Need A Resolution.”
As my girlfriend and I drove home from my party that Saturday morning, August 25th, I remember complaining about my birthday. Not the party – but my age. I had just turned thirty-something and I was lamenting about how I was becoming OLD, and how I wasn’t accomplishing anything – I was just really throwing a pity party in her car. I remember listening to the CD and talking to my girlfriend about how Aaliyah was a great example of a young woman who was young and beautiful and talented and famous and who was doing amazing things with her life. When the CD ended we turned on the radio. And as I continued my rant the on-air personality announced in a shocked and hurt voice that Aaliyah had died in a plane crash as she was making her way home from The Bahamas after filming the music video for “Rock The Boat”.
The shoot had wrapped early, and though a flight was scheduled for the next day, everyone involved in the video was anxious to get home so they looked for a private plane to take them to Florida. They boarded a Cessna 404 airplane, which crashed shortly after takeoff. All eight passengers were killed. Aaliyah was 22 years old at the time.
Of course that ended my pity party immediately as me and my girlfriend fell into painful silence. As we rode up 95 to make our way back to Baltimore, I found myself silently crying in the passenger seat, thanking God for my life and praying for the peace of Aaliyah’s soul. That was thirteen years ago today.
Her funeral took place on August 31st, 2001 at St. Ignatius Loyola Church in New York City.
The question of how Aaliyah’s would have impacted the music industry if her life had not been cut so tragically short remains a legitimate one. The scandal caused by her brief and quickly annulled marriage to R. Kelly at fifteen has done very little to blemish her legacy, especially for her fans. Her subtle but effective presentation of her sensuality in her music over her three album career tended to set her apart from more overtly sexual female artists (though the visuals in “Rock The Boat” suggest she may have been departing from that subtle presentation of herself). But she was a layered and multi-faceted young woman with various sides to herself, and the absence of a hypersexual persona was extremely appealing, especially for young women.
RIP Aaliyah Dana Haughton: January 16, 1979 – August 25, 2001