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Tuesday, 28 August, 2001, 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK
Gladys Knight mourns niece Aaliyah
Aaliyah
Aaliyah picked up an MTV award in 2000
Soul legend Gladys Knight has paid tribute to her niece, R&B star Aaliyah, who died in a plane crash on Saturday.

Knight said she felt "blessed" to have known the singer and actress.

I love Aaliyah, and I will miss her for the rest of my life

Gladys Knight
The 22-year-old was killed when the twin-engine Cessna she and her entourage were travelling in crashed seconds after taking off from Marsh Harbour airport in the Bahamas.

Knight, who was married to Aaliyah's uncle Barry Hankerson, said: "I watched her grow up, and, with the rest of the world, saw her achieve success with her special and unique talents.

"From an early age, I knew she had enormous talents, an intrinsic gift. When she first performed with me in Las Vegas, she was still quite young, but she already had it - that spark the world would later see and fall in love with."

Knight spoke of her grief as the young star's fans held a candlelit vigil near her former high school in Detroit.

Gladys Knight
Aaliyah performed with Gladys Knight as a young girl
Aaliyah's music was played as those that had congregated took the opportunity to share their feelings about the loss.

Knight remained close to her niece even after splitting from her husband.

She added: "She had a refreshing outlook for one so young, with true respect for her art and for her elders.

Click here to send us your views on Aaliyah's life and work.

"She brought joy to my heart, and I felt blessed to encourage and support her professionally and personally as she strove for each new goal.

"Her star had just begun to shine so brightly. Though she was ours for only a short time, what a time it was. I love Aaliyah, and I will miss her for the rest of my life."

Andre Charles
Spray paint artist Andre Charles created a Manhattan tribute mural
Investigators are probing the cause of the crash but reports are emerging that the plane was carrying too much baggage.

Two local newspapers, The Tribune and The Freeport News, quoted an unnamed baggage handler as saying he had warned the pilot the aircraft was too heavy for a safe takeoff.

US and Bahamian aviation officials continued searching for clues, saying they would investigate whether excess weight from the production equipment contributed to the crash.

The singer's death along with those of the other eight people on board the chartered plane has shaken the small community of Abaco Island.

"We played her music on the island here," said Silbert Mills, an official on the island.

"That's the whole tragedy of it. We felt as if we knew her, yet we didn't."

Shanika Richey and Tanisha Williams
Fans mourned in Detroit: Tanisha Williams, 10, and Shanika Richey
Funeral director Loretta Turner said that Aaliyah's body would be flown back to the United States late on Tuesday.

Born in 1979 in New York, Aaliyah Haughton was raised in Detroit.

She began performing at age 11 when she sang with Knight, and her first album Age Ain't Nothing But A Number came out when she was 15 - and sold millions.

Aaliyah's song Try Again earned her a Grammy nomination for best female R&B vocalist, and last year she made her film acting debut in Romeo Must Die.

Rapper DMX, who also had a role in Romeo Must Die, described her as: "Talented, classy, warm, beautiful, compassionate (and) humble."

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Aaliyah's talents

Fans pay respects

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