Remembering Aaliyah Eight Years Later

I grew up listening to Aaliyah, and I was eleven when she died.  I remember it being one of the first deaths of someone who I had grown to admire that was only a few years older than me, and it really shook me.  I had just seen her on MTV’s “Diary” a few weeks earlier and had thought what a cool girl she came across as, and then she was gone. 

As the years have gone on and I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreaciate her music and legacy more than ever.  Aaliyah built her career on being sexy without trying too hard and also showing what it really meant to be a woman.  Her songs weren’t about grinding up next to someone at a club or getting drunk, but had real substance and meaning that included ending a abusive relationship, being the other woman, being more than a woman, and above all coming into your own as an adult.  Even now, her lyrics ring with truth and honesty.

Now that I have my own blog I wanted to pay tribute to the woman who greatly impacted me growing up and has still left an impression on me eight years later, and for anyone else who is still a fan.  So, below you’ll find an article that was just added on BET.com that pays tribute to the singer, and a few of her videos.

We can only imagine what Aaliyah could have been, but I hope more than anything people look at her life and realize what an inspiring and sincere individual she was.  She never fit the mold, but was always herself.  That in itself, is a piece of her legacy. 

One in a Million: Remembering Aaliyah

by Kevin Taylor

Yes, it hurts every year.  I was on my way to Aaliyah’s funeral on August 31, 2001, when I remembered the first time I met the pop/R&B songbird. 

It was when she was 14 years old and making her debut on the flagship Black Entertainment Television show, “Video Soul.”  She was accompanied by mentor/super-producer R. Kelly, and they wore matching green plaid shirts and baseball caps as I escorted them onto the set.   She was sweet and shy, but she was 14, so I didn’t expect much talk.  I could tell there was sincerity and humility in her eyes. I liked that she wasn’t some precocious young girl who knew she was the bomb.  Aaliyah Haughton was sweet and almost star-struck as she sat on the set to be interviewed. Over the years she would come by the channel to do shows, and she was always smiling and connected.  Aaliyah was always sincere.

We didn’t really get to truly connect until years later when the grown woman, who had endured the industry, its rumors and finicky nature, came to “106 and Park” and graced the show with her talent and newfound beauty.  Aaliyah decided to do a video for “Rock the Boat,” which was blowing up on radio.  They had already completed “More Than a Woman” and it was the scheduled new single, but “Rock the Boat” had taken the clubs by storm.  She was on her way to Miami and then to the Bahamas to shoot the unscheduled video.  Hype Williams was at the helm of the video, and I was at the helm of “Access Granted,” a show I created for BET in 1999 with Mary J. Blige’s “Your Child” video.  Aaliyah was told I was the producer of the behind-the-scenes special and the superstar pulled me aside in the green room.

 “So, how you doing?” she laughed and tugged at my arm. “We need a signal or something so we are good on what goes on cam and what doesn’t.”

 “Okay, Miss Aaliyah,” I obliged, clear that she was talking about the much rumored relationship that she shared with Damon Dash.  Everyone wanted proof that they were together, and she was informing me by her request that he would likely be making an appearance at the video shoot that wasn’t scheduled to be an on-camera appearance.

“How about we try this,” I offered.  With that, I took my hand, palm up, and pulled it down until the fingers all met, signaling that something was closing, like a flower or the lens of a camera.

 “Oh that’s it.  I live for that.”  She smiled and we agreed, hugged and didn’t see each other again until she walked on set in Miami.

Aaliyah got out of the limo in the secluded soundstage and was all business, until she saw me and my camera crew off to the side, waiting for her to do her thing.  “Oh, hey!” she said to me with a smile, and then turned to the camera and said, “Let’s go shoot.”  We followed her to the set and it was pure magic.  She came to our cameras every time her focus wasn’t on Hype’s direction. Playful, beautiful and full of life, she introduced the audience to Eric Foreman, her hairstylist and Chris Maldonado, who was a personal friend of mine and handling makeup duties.  She treated them like family and made sure they got “their shine” with time on camera.

The next day, when Aaliyah had to take to the water, Gina Smith came to me at about 11 p.m. that Thursday night to ask if I would mind changing my flight from the one accompanying “Li-Li” from the Bahamas to a separate commercial flight.  Knowing that there would be nothing for me to shoot on the plane and that artists need their privacy, I quickly agreed to a rescheduling of my flight.  Soon after, Aaliyah went to the private University of Miami diving pool to capture her stunning underwater shots.  I hated seeing her struggle with breathing in the insanely deep waters, but like a pro she worked through it and Hype made magic.

In the Bahamas, I met the Aaliyah that only her family and closest friends got to know.  She was personable, funny and almost giddy the entire shoot.  Even after break-of-dawn shooting, she adorned a yellow swimsuit and lounged by the pool with her crew, recording precious rare footage for the BET cameras.

On Saturday afternoon, as Aaliyah, the dancers and the crew all boarded a catamaran to capture the final shoots, I boarded my tiny plane back to Miami and then on to Baltimore, where I was scheduled to preach the following Sunday morning (I became pastor of Unity Fellowship Church in January 2001).  By the time I landed, the world had changed forever.  Something major had happened.  I didn’t believe it.  No one could verify it and the news was no help.  Finally, shaken but unsure, I drifted off to sleep.  At exactly 1:06 a.m. (yes, I did note the time), I was awakened by news from CNN that “Aaliyah Dana Haughton (1979-2001)” was dead.

It was not just Aaliyah and “some people.”  It was Aaliyah and Gina, with the helpful heart; and Scott Gallin, her secuirty guard who kept the fans away, but allowed them to still have time with her.  It was Keith Wallace, who traveled with her and protected her like family because to him, she was.  It was Eric, who was a hoot and the funniest person I had ever met.  It was my friend Chris, who I had just seen a Patti LaBelle concert with in the City.  This was about real people and a real tragedy.

I remember Aaliyah today and I still cry, because it’s like I said goodbye to a little sister.  I still can’t listen to “Rock the Boat” without tears.

Every so often, someone will find me on Facebook or MySpace and quietly ask, “What was she like?”  They don’t even use her name.  They know that I was there for her final moments, and I try, with my whole heart, to keep her alive; through her loving fans who still ask me about her and post her photos on their pages.

“She was amazing.”  That’s what I always start by saying.   “Aaliyah was amazing.”

                                                          ***

After 11 years with the network, Kevin Taylor left BET in 2002 to write and to pastor Unity Fellowship Church in New Brunswick NJ, which he founded in January 2001. 

My favorite:

And MTV’s Diary:

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