01/16/2002 at 01:00 AM EST
Four-time Grammy winner Gladys Knight, 57, fondly remembers her niece, the rising R&B singer and actress Aaliyah, 22, who was killed last Aug. 25 in a plane crash in the Bahamas, with serenity, not sadness, reveals a profile of the veteran singer in the February issue of Rosie. (Aaliyah would have turned 23 on Wednesday.) "The news of her death was a blow," Knight told the magazine. A sensuous performer whose sultry vocals had taken her to the top of the pop charts, Aaliyah, already had two Grammy nominations to her credit, two platinum albums and a newly released third heading in the same direction, PEOPLE reported in its tribute to the young star. But the New York-born, Detroit-bred diva sought more than selling records. Since her memorable screen debut in the 2000 thriller "Romeo Must Die," she had signed on to appear in two "Matrix" sequels and finished shooting the title role in "Anne Rice's The Queen of the Damned." Speaking to Rosie magazine, Knight said that her niece was "brought up in the old school. She was a sweet, sweet girl. She would walk into a room, and you would feel her light. She'd hug everyone, and she meant it." One of the last conversations the two women had concerned a professional conflict of Aaliyah's. "She was having some problems with another young artist she was trying to work with," said Knight. "It was all so petty. I told her, 'You remain who you are. Keep your feet on the ground. You've been given a gift, and you go out there and use it.'"