The situation puts her entire musical legacy at risk of fading from memory.Year by year, streaming accounts for a greater portion of an artist’s visibility and reverence among the next generation of listeners. To understand Aaliyah, and the fate of her iconic catalog, you have to understand her uncle, Barry Hankerson, who groomed the singer for stardom from a young age as her manager and the co-founder of her label home, Blackground Records. “I’m consistently amazed by the things Barry Hankerson has accomplished,” says veteran music journalist Jim De Rogatis, one of the few members of the press ever to talk regularly with Hankerson, mostly during his long tenure at the . Almost nothing is known about this man.” Despite multiple requests for comment, Hankerson declined to participate in this story. In the late 1960s, he attended the historically black Central State University in Ohio, majoring in sociology and developing a reputation as a campus radical.By the early 1970s he was employed as a community organizer in the office of Coleman Young, the mayor of Detroit.It was there that he first met the singer Gladys Knight, who was scheduled to perform while working at a local fundraising benefit. The taciturn, serious Hankerson viewed Knight as a “pampered singer,” according to a January 1975 magazine cover story.At 17, she won a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy and moved to London where she landed a £1million Universal Records contract aged 23.Starting out: The singer first started her musical career singing in church choirs and soon won Welsh Choir Girl of the Year.It’s not an artistic statement or a play for more money, and there’s no dedicated Aaliyah-only streaming service in the works.Instead, there’s a single, stubborn man, sitting on a catalog that includes almost all of her most famous work, as well as albums from Timbaland and Toni Braxton, and a trove of unreleased original material that’s never before been heard.
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Knight, in turn, described Hankerson as “very evil.”But the two remained in contact, and within a few years they were married. Both Hankerson and Knight already had children from previous marriages.
Knight’s, whose signature hit, “Midnight Train to Georgia,” had just been released, was world famous at the age of 30; Hankerson, 27, was a complete unknown.
”—aren’t available for streaming or sale on Spotify, i Tunes, Amazon, or any other online music service.
Digital voids like these can result from legal battles over uncleared samples (as with De La Soul), or from musicians holding out for better royalty terms (the Beatles, until recently).
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