Aaliyah, which means "highest, most exalted one", was born in Brooklyn, New York, on January 16, 1979 and grew up in Detroit, Michigan. She had an early start in show business, playing an orphan in her elementary school production of Annie at the age of just 6. "I had one little line," she once recalled. "But what I loved about it was just putting the production together, being in the chorus, learning the routines, singing and doing a little bit of acting. That's when I said, I've got to do this forever". At age ten, Aaliyah hit the famous Star Search stage and performed her own rendition of Chaka Khan's My Funny Valentine. Although she did not win the competition, she would look back and remember this as a real learning experience. Her uncle, Barry Hankerson, was an entertainment lawyer who was once married to Gladys Knight. Due to this connection, at age 11 Aaliyah got the opportunity to sing with Gladys Knight's troupe in Las Vegas, another experience that Aaliyah remembers fondly. From there, the dedicated singer would emerge from a nonstop vocal training regimen with a sound and vision completely her own. "It came out of nowhere, yet it felt totally natural," Aaliyah recalls. "I was tripped out about it".At age 12 Aaliyah was introduced to singer/producer, R. Kelly through her uncle and at age 14 she began recording her debut album Age Ain't Nothing But A Number. This album won her two Grammy nominations and earned her platinum status in the music industry. The title track raised eyebrows with its suggestive lyrics, and so did Aaliyah's sexy attitude and sultry voice. "I didn't feel I was too mature. I felt for my age, I was just right," she said. "Yeah, it was a bit sexy, but that was just me, and I'm not going to deny being a little bit sexy. I think it's a wonderful thing." Allegedly, Kelly's and Aaliyah's relationship turned romantic, and there were even rumors that papers existed showing the couple had married in spite of Aaliyah's young age and lack of parental consent.