Editor’s note: This column was originally published on Sept. 1, 2001. Aaliyah died Aug. 25, 2001.
The Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards air here Sunday, and it will be a bittersweet affair.
It was a week ago today that Aaliyah, the superstar songstress/actress/model died in a tragic plane crash in the Bahamas.
Since then, from Kansas City radio to national television, there’s been an outpouring of grief.
“She was so sweet, always, “ a teary-eyed Beyonce Knowles, 20, of Destiny’s Child told MTV backstage at the Lady of Soul taping. “She was one of the most beautiful people on the inside and out. It’s tragic.”
I couldn’t agree more.
At every turning point in my life, there was an Aaliyah CD to relate to — to cry to, to laugh to, to dance to.
It was summer 1994 when I first saw the video for “Back and Forth.” We were both 15, and sophomore year had just begun. So I grabbed my baggy jeans (oh, I wished they were Tommy Hilfiger), my crop top and shades, and became an Aaliyah groupie.
Her first album, “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number,” dropped and soon became my anthem. I kissed my first boyfriend while Aaliyah’s voice, like a breath of seduction, sang “At Your Best.”
When the time came to pack up for college, “One in a Million” went to the dorm with me. I felt like I was entering a new phase, learning to express myself and be a little sassy, too. Her music was my ongoing soundtrack. I played “If Your Girl Only Knew” and “Hot Like Fire” and just danced my cares away.
Hits like “Are You That Somebody” became the motivation behind my aerobics routine. Junior year my sorority sisters and I set our Greek alphabet to her song “I Don’t Wanna Be” (I just wanna be, Sigma Gamma, Sigma Gamma ... ). Her bounce beats and whispering voice are a feel-good combination.
The single “We Need a Resolution” — an appeal to her lover — came out during my final semester before graduation. I was a lovesick insomniac. That song reflected my mood and lifted my spirit. I was becoming a woman and, with degree in hand, I ventured off into the real world.
Two months later the CD “Aaliyah” was released. It became my sanity on bad days and my smile, just because. Every song has a melody and a lyrical moment with a meaning.
“It’s Whatever” is the perfect love groove: “You’re my tree and through the storms you’ve stood strong for me/kept me warm as can be/like a candy to an apple/we go together/you’re so sweet on me/I can say that I do believe this is destiny.”
She must have been thinking of her boyfriend Damon Dash, who co-runs Roc-A-Fella Records with rapper Jay-Z. In an emotional phone call with MTV, he said they’d planned to get married, maybe after she filmed “The Matrix” sequels.
“She was the best person I ever knew,” he said. “It was like being with your homeboy and your girl at the same time.”
As I have grown, Aaliyah’s music has grown with me. At 22, Aaliyah Dana Haughton was all sultry soul. Her name in Arabic means “powerful one,” and she exuded, with humility, a power to touch millions. She allowed herself to be a vessel in which great things were carried, and that was her life.
“This is what I always wanted, “ she told Vibe magazine. “I breathe to perform, to entertain. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. I’m just a really happy girl ... I feel very fulfilled and complete.”
It is said that music is soul medicine. Aaliyah has been my prescription for several years and will be for many more to come.
Jeneé Osterheldt: @jeneeinkc