Who Is Alicia Keys?
Born in 1981, in New York, Alicia Keys began piano lessons at age 7. After graduating from the Professional Performance Arts School, she signed a deal with Clive Davis, the head of Arista Records. Davis left Arista to start J Records and Keys followed. Her debut album, Songs in A Minor (2001), went platinum five times over and earned her five Grammys. She followed up with hit albums such as The Diary of Alicia Keys (2003), As I Am (2007) and Girl on Fire (2009), all of which won the artist Grammys.
Musician and actor Alicia Keys was born Alicia Augello Cook on January 25, 1981, in New York, New York. Growing up, Keys was raised by her mother, Nikki Augello—a part-time actress and paralegal. She began piano lessons at age 7 and Augello's dogged insistence that her daughter stick with the instrument led Keys to attend Manhattan's prestigious Professional Performance Arts School, where she majored in choir. Having excelled academically, Keys was allowed to graduate at the age of 16.
Keys had already attracted the attention of record company executives while in high school, and after what amounted to a bidding war for her talents, she signed with Arista Records in 1998. While she was accepted to Columbia University on a full scholarship, after a four-week stint at the school, Keys departed to devote herself fully to her music.
Albums and Songs
'Songs in A Minor'
In 1999, Clive Davis—head of Arista Records—left the prominent record company where he worked to start J Records. Keys decided to follow Davis, who had engineered the careers of soul luminaries such as Aretha Franklin, to his new label. Unlike many of her pop-music contemporaries, the precocious Keys not only sings, but writes and produces her own music. At J Records, Keys found the freedom to complete her debut effort, which included material she had started work on years prior.
Davis carefully orchestrated a media blitz before the release of the album, including an appearance on Oprah the day before the album hit shelves. When it was finally released, Keys' debut album, Songs in A Minor (2001), went platinum five times over.
Critics roundly praised the album not only for its musical polish, but also for its lyric maturity. At the 2002 Grammy Awards, Keys took home awards for Song of the Year, Best R&B Song, Best R&B Album, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best New Artist.
'The Diary of Alicia Keys'
Keys released her second album, The Diary of Alicia Keys, in 2003. She proved that her success as a new artist two years prior wasn't a fluke, with the album debuting at No. 1. Keys also took home several Grammys for her sophomore album, including Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, Best R&B Song, Best R&B Album and Best R&B Performance by a Group or Duo with Vocals for her duet with Usher on the song "My Boo."
'As I Am,' 'Empire State of Mind'
Keys' seemingly unstoppable career continued in 2007 with the release of As I Am. The album also debuted at No. 1, selling more than 740,000 copies in its first week, and went on to garner her two more Grammys.
It was during this time that Keys also began to collaborate with more artists. In 2008, she recorded "Another Way to Die" with Jack White, which was featured as the theme song for the James Bond film Quantum of Solace (2008). She also recorded the hit single "Empire State of Mind" with fellow New Yorker Jay-Z the following year.
'The Element of Freedom,' 'Girl on Fire'
By the end of 2009, Keys released her fourth studio album, The Element of Freedom. Although the album didn't fare nearly as well as her previous albums—it debuted at No. 2 with the lead single "Doesn't Mean Anything" and reached No. 60 on the Billboard Hot 200—the album did become Keys' first to hit No. 1 in the United Kingdom. Her fifth studio album, Girl on Fire (2012), put Keys back at her top spot, debuting at No. 1. She won the Grammy for Best R&B Album in 2014 for her work.
Keys followed in 2016 with her sixth studio effort, Here. The album, which featured the singles "In Common" and "Blended Family (What You Do for Love)," topped out at No. 2 on the Hot 200 and reached No. 1 on the R&B/Hip-Hop chart.
Film and TV Projects
'Smokin' Aces,' 'The Secret Life of Bees'
In 1985, a 4-year-old Keys appeared as one of Keshia Knight Pulliam's friends on The Cosby Show. She appeared on several other series years later, including Charmed, American Dreams and The Backyardigans. Keys made her big screen debut in 2006, appearing in the action film Smokin' Aces as Georgia Sykes. She went on to appear in The Nanny Diaries (2007) and The Secret Life of Bees (2008), alongside Queen Latifah and Jennifer Hudson. In 2011, she directed a segment of the anthology TV film Five.
'Empire,' 'The Voice'
In 2015, the singer/actress appeared on season 2 of the hit series Empire, in the recurring role of Skye Summers. The following year, she joined pop star Miley Cyrus as new judges on season 11 of the TV singing competition The Voice. She left the show after two seasons, but was back for season 14.
Grammy Awards Host
Keys hosted the Grammy Awards in February 2019, and contributed to the night's musical festivities by switching between pianos to play some of her all-time favorites from artists like Nat King Cole, Roberta Flack and Lauryn Hill. Returning to host the following year, she helped deliver one of the ceremony's most poignant moments by joining Boyz II Men to sing "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye" in honor of recently deceased basketball great Kobe Bryant.
In July 2010, Keys married hip-hop producer Swizz Beatz. The couple welcomed their first child together in October 2010, a son named Egypt Daoud Dean. In December 2014, they welcomed their second son, Genesis Ali Dean.
On January 22, 2017, a day after Donald Trump's presidential inauguration, Keys and a lineup of celebrity activists including Gloria Steinem, Angela Davis, Madonna, Cher, Ashley Judd, Scarlett Johansson, America Ferrera and Janelle Monáe, among others, participated in the Women's March on Washington. The March inspired sister marches all over the country and the world, and drew over half a million people to Washington, D.C., where they demonstrated in support of women's rights and equality for all, and protested against President Trump's stance on a variety issues ranging from immigration to environmental protection.
In her address to the crowd, Keys said: "Let us continue to honor all that is beautiful about being feminine. We are mothers. We are caregivers. We are artists. We are activists. We are entrepreneurs, doctors, leaders of industry and technology. Our potential is unlimited. We rise!
"We will not allow our bodies to be owned and controlled by men in government, or men anywhere for that matter. We will not allow our compassionate souls to get stepped on. We want the best for all Americans. No hate, no bigotry, no Muslim registry. We value education, health care and equality."
She also performed a version of her hit "Girl on Fire," changing the lyrics to "These girls are on fire."
In March 2020, Keys published a memoir, More Myself: A Journey, in which she reflected on her gritty New York City upbringing and recalled the gift of a free piano that kickstarted her successful career.
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