Meet Aliyah Khaylyn Taylor, a West Philly singer who received a full scholarship to Boston’s Berklee College of Music.

• On family gatherings: “We’ll be sitting there talking about whatever, somebody’s eating pie, and then somewhere somebody just found a tambourine and then we’re singing and we’re laughing and we’re dancing.”

• Pipes and organs: For her senior project at the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts, Aliyah wrote about human organ trafficking on the black market.

The admissions judges had traveled from Berklee College of Music in Boston to the Philadelphia Clef Club to hear Aliyah Taylor sing, but she wasn’t going to take it easy on them.

She knew the song she’d chosen, Four Women by Nina Simone, which tells the first-person stories of four black women and the ravages of slavery, can be tough for some to hear.

My father was rich and white

He forced my mother late one night

What do they call me

My name is Saffronia

“It is uncomfortable for some audiences and the content is very heavy in that song,” Aliyah said. “So I was like ‘OK, I don’t know if I should sing it, but I really like this song so I’m just going to take the risk.’”

Aliyah Taylor, 18, of West Philly, sings at the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz & Performing Arts, where she auditioned for Berklee College of Music in February.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Aliyah Taylor, 18, of West Philly, sings at the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz & Performing Arts, where she auditioned for Berklee College of Music in February.

She chose the song because she liked its message. And Berklee liked her. Not only was Aliyah accepted to the prestigious music school, ranked among the best in the world, she also got a full merit-based scholarship.

For a girl from West Philly who started singing along to Jill Scott songs at 18 months, getting a full ride to Berklee was like hitting the ultimate high note.

“We all cried," Aliyah said. “Because if I did not get that scholarship I was not going to Berklee."

Aliyah, who uses her first and middle name — Aliyah Khaylyn — as her stage name, began performing in church at 6.

“It was the best thing ever,” Aliyah said. “That was when I knew I wanted to sing.”

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Anna Taylor, Aliyah’s mom, fostered her daughter’s talents with voice, piano, and dance lessons.

“I seen that she was given a gift and in the city of Philadelphia growing up — I’m a single mom and my mom was a single mom — sometimes girls can get lost,” Taylor said. “I knew I had to put her in to things that would help her grow in a positive light.”

Aliyah’s first real performance with a band and backup singers was at Warmdaddy’s. She was 12.

That same year, Aliyah beat out thousands to sing “America the Beautiful" at the 2013 U.S. Open. Then she won Amateur Night at the legendary Apollo.

In 2016, she won her first of two Marian Anderson scholarship awards and performed at the Marian Anderson Awards Gala for stars such as Patti LaBelle, Kenny Gamble, and Leon Huff. She also performed in this year’s Teddy Pendergrass documentary.

Aliyah Taylor first began singing at 18 months old and first performed in public at age 6.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Aliyah Taylor first began singing at 18 months old and first performed in public at age 6.

One of her most memorable performances was at a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Philly, when protesters refused to stop chanting.

“I took a few breaths and I was like ‘We both are trying to get a message across right now’ and I just sang,” Aliyah said. “It was really a learning experience because not all of the time you’re going to perform in nice, cozy places that are going to make you comfortable.”

But despite Aliyah’s accomplishments, attending Berklee wasn’t a sure bet. Last year, she began working with the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts, which has an affiliation with the school.

Lovett Hines, artistic director at the Clef Club, said he “could see Aliyah was really serious about pursuing her dream.”

But not everyone believed she could attain it. Aliyah and her mom attended a college seminar where the instructor said her family couldn’t afford Berklee.

“Aliyah’s whole demeanor changed," her mom recalled.

Aliyah Taylor, 18, of West Philly, sings at the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz & Performing Arts.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Aliyah Taylor, 18, of West Philly, sings at the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz & Performing Arts.

But when Aliyah called Berklee to check on the status of her application, she learned that not only had she been accepted, but she also had gotten a full-tuition scholarship.

She was in the car with her mom and put the call on speaker.

“We were so elated we just got out the car and we were jumping up and down ‘Hallelujah!’ ” Anna Taylor said.

Aliyah moved to Berklee last month to begin her freshman year. She dreams of traveling the world and singing songs of substance.

“I just want to sing to people and perform and make God happy for everything he’s done for me because this is a gift from him,” she said.

Know someone in the Philadelphia area whose story deserves to be told — or someone whose story you'd like to know? Send suggestions for We the People profiles to Stephanie Farr at sfarr@inquirer.com or call her at 215-854-4225. Send tips via Twitter to @FarFarrAway.

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