- Alicia Augello Cook
January 25, 1981 (age 40)
- Musician, Record producer, Author, Singer-songwriter, Actor, Music Video Director, Keyboard Player,
- Swizz Beatz (m. 2010)
- Craig Cook, Teresa Augello, Terria Joseph
Alicia Augello Cook (born January 25, 1981), known by the pseudonym Alicia Keys, is an American singer, pianist, songwriter, record producer, and actress. Keys released her debut album with J Records, having had previous record deals first with Columbia and then Arista Records. Keys' debut album, Songs in A Minor, was a commercial success, selling over 12 million copies worldwide. She became the best-selling new artist and best-selling R&B artist of 2001. The album earned Keys five Grammy Awards in 2002, including Best New Artist and Song of the Year for "Fallin'", becoming the second American recording artist to win five Grammys in one night. Her second studio album, The Diary of Alicia Keys, was released in 2003 and was also another success worldwide, selling eight million copies. The album garnered her an additional four Grammy Awards in 2005. Later that year, she released her first live album, Unplugged, which debuted at number one in the United States. She became the first female to have an MTV Unplugged album to debut at number one and the highest since Nirvana in 1994.
Keys has made guest appearances on several television series, beginning with The Cosby Show and most recently on season 2 of Empire. She made her film debut in Smokin' Aces and also went on to appear in The Nanny Diaries in 2007. Her third studio album, As I Am, was released in the same year and sold five million copies worldwide, earning Keys an additional three Grammy Awards. The following year, she appeared in The Secret Life of Bees, which earned her a nomination at the NAACP Image Awards. She released her fourth album, The Element of Freedom, in December 2009, which became Keys' first chart-topping album in the United Kingdom. She released her fifth album, Girl on Fire, in November 2012, which became Keys' fifth chart-topping album in the United States. Keys released her second live album, VH1 Storytellers, in June 2013.
Throughout her career, Keys has won numerous awards such as 15 Grammy Awards, and has sold over 35 million albums and 30 million singles worldwide. Billboard magazine named her the top R&B songs artist of the 2000s decade. In 2010, VH1 included Keys on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Billboard magazine placed her number ten on their list of Top 50 R&B/Hip-Hop Artists of the Past 25 Years. In February 2012, Keys was ranked 14th on VH1's 100 Greatest Women in Music list. Keys was ranked at number thirty-three on VH1's "50 Greatest Women of the Video Era" list and number 10 on their "100 Sexiest Artists" list.
Life and career
1981–99: Early life and career beginnings
Keys was born Alicia Augello Cook on January 25, 1981, in the Hell's Kitchen area of Manhattan, in New York City. She is the only child of Teresa (Augello), a paralegal and part-time actress, and Craig Cook, a flight attendant. Keys' father is African-American and her mother is of Italian, Scottish and Irish descent. Keys has expressed that she was comfortable with her biracial heritage because she felt she was able to "relate to different cultures". Her parents separated when she was two and she was subsequently raised by her mother during her formative years in Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan. Keys has 2 younger half brothers: Clay Cook (Branch) and Cole Cook. In 1985, Keys made an appearance on The Cosby Show at the age of four, where she and a group of girls played the parts of Rudy Huxtable's sleepover guests in the episode "Slumber Party". Throughout her childhood, Keys was sent to music and dance classes by her mother. She studied classical piano from age seven, playing composers such as Beethoven, Mozart, and Chopin, and enrolled in the Professional Performing Arts School at the age of 12, where she majored in choir and began writing songs at the age of 14. She graduated in four years as valedictorian at the age of 16.
In 1994, Keys met long-term manager Jeff Robinson after she enrolled in his brother's after-school program. The following year Robinson introduced Keys to her future A&R at Arista Records, Peter Edge, who later described his first impressions to HitQuarters: "I had never met a young R&B artist with that level of musicianship. So many people were just singing on top of loops and tracks, but she had the ability, not only to be part of hip-hop, but also to go way beyond that." Edge helped Robinson create a showcase for Keys and also got involved in developing her demo material. He was keen to sign Keys himself but was unable to do so at that time due to being on the verge of leaving his present record company. Keys signed to Columbia Records soon after. At the same time as signing a recording contract with Columbia Records, Keys was accepted at Columbia University. At first, Keys attempted to manage both, but after a month, she dropped out of college to pursue her musical career full-time.
Keys signed a demo deal with Jermaine Dupri and So So Def Recordings, where she appeared on the label's Christmas album performing "The Little Drummer Girl". She also co-wrote and recorded a song titled "Dah Dee Dah (Sexy Thing)", which appeared on the soundtrack to the 1997 film, Men in Black. The song was Keys' first professional recording; however, it was never released as a single and her record contract with Columbia ended after a dispute with the label. Keys was unhappy with the label because her career had stalled during her two years under contract at Columbia due to executive indecision over her direction and major changes within the company. Keys called Clive Davis, who sensed a "special, unique" artist from her performance and signed her to Arista Records, which later disbanded. Keys almost chose Wilde as her stage name until her manager suggested the name Keys after a dream he had. Keys felt that name represented her both as a performer and person.
2000–02: Songs in A Minor
Following Davis to his newly formed J Records label, she worked with Kerry "Krucial" Brothers and recorded the songs "Rock wit U" and "Rear View Mirror", which were featured on the soundtracks to the films Shaft (2000) and Dr. Dolittle 2 (2001), respectively. Keys' first studio album Songs in A Minor was released in June 2001. Musically, it incorporated classical piano in an R&B, soul and jazz album. Jane Stevenson of Jam! described the music as "old-school urban sounds and attitude set against a backdrop of classical piano and sweet, warm vocals". USA Today's Steve Jones wrote that Keys "taps into the blues, soul, jazz and even classical music to propel haunting melodies and hard-driving funk". Debuting at number one on the Billboard 200 with first-week sales of 236,000 units, it went on to sell over 6.2 million copies in the United States and 12 million copies internationally. Additionally, it was certified six times Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. Songs in A Minor established Keys' popularity both inside and outside of the United States where she became the best-selling new artist of the year.
The album's release was preceded by the April release of her debut single, "Fallin'", which spent six weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100. The album's second single, "A Woman's Worth", was released in February 2002 and peaked at seven on the Hot 100 and number three on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs; becoming her second top ten single on both charts. Released in June, "How Come You Don't Call Me" served as the album's third single, peaking at 59 on the Hot 100. The album's fourth single "Girlfriend" was released in the United Kingdom where it peaked at 82. The following year, the album was reissued as Remixed & Unplugged in A Minor, which included eight remixes and seven unplugged versions of the songs from the original.
Songs in A Minor led Keys to win five awards at the 2002 Grammy Awards: Song of the Year, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, and Best R&B Song for "Fallin'", Best New Artist, and Best R&B Album; "Fallin'" was also nominated for Record of the Year. Keys became the second female solo artist to win five Grammy Awards in a single night, following Lauryn Hill at the 41st Grammy Awards. That same year, she collaborated with Christina Aguilera for the latter's upcoming album Stripped on a song titled "Impossible", which Keys wrote, co-produced, and provided with background vocals. During the early 2000s, Keys also made small cameos in television series Charmed and American Dreams.
2003–05: The Diary of Alicia Keys and Unplugged
Keys followed up her debut with The Diary of Alicia Keys, which was released in December 2003. The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, selling over 618,000 copies its first week of release, becoming the largest first-week sales for a female artist in 2003. It sold 4.4 million copies in the United States and was certified four times Platinum by the RIAA. It sold eight million copies worldwide, becoming the sixth biggest-selling album by a female artist and the second biggest-selling album by a female R&B artist. The album's lead single, "You Don't Know My Name", peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and number one on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs for eight consecutive weeks, her first Top 10 single in both charts since 2002's "A Woman's Worth". The album's second single, "If I Ain't Got You", was released in February 2004 and peaked at number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number one on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs for six weeks. The album's third single, "Diary", peaked at number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number two on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, being their third consecutive Top 10 single in both charts. The album's fourth and final single, "Karma", which peaked at number 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 17 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, first release to fail to achieve top ten status on both charts. "If I Ain't Got You" became the first single by a female artist to remain on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart for over a year. Keys also collaborated with recording artist Usher on the song "My Boo" from his 2004 album, Confessions (Special Edition). The song topped the Billboard Hot 100 for six weeks and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs for three weeks, became her first number-one single in Hot 100 since 2001's "Fallin'".
Keys won Best R&B Video for "If I Ain't Got You" at the 2004 MTV Video Music Awards; she performed the song and "Higher Ground" with Lenny Kravitz and Stevie Wonder. Later that year, Keys released her novel Tears for Water: Songbook of Poems and Lyrics, a collection of unreleased poems from her journals and lyrics. The title derived from one of her poems, "Love and Chains" from the line: "I don't mind drinking my tears for water." She said the title is the foundation of her writing because "everything I have ever written has stemmed from my tears of joy, of pain, of sorrow, of depression, even of question". The book sold over US$500,000 and Keys made The New York Times bestseller list in 2005. The following year, she won a second consecutive award for Best R&B Video at the MTV Video Music Awards for the video "Karma". Keys performed "If I Ain't Got You" and then joined Jamie Foxx and Quincy Jones in a rendition of "Georgia on My Mind", the Hoagy Carmichael song made famous by Ray Charles in 1960 at the 2005 Grammy Awards. That evening, she won four Grammy Awards: Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for "If I Ain't Got You", Best R&B Song for "You Don't Know My Name", Best R&B Album for The Diary of Alicia Keys, and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals" for "My Boo" with Usher.
Keys performed and taped her installment of the MTV Unplugged series in July 2005 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. During this session, Keys added new arrangements to her original songs and performed a few choice covers. The session was released on CD and DVD in October 2005. Simply titled Unplugged, the album debuted at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart with 196,000 units sold in its first week of release. The album sold one million copies in the United States, where it was certified Platinum by the RIAA, and two million copies worldwide. The debut of Keys' Unplugged was the highest for an MTV Unplugged album since Nirvana's 1994 MTV Unplugged in New York and the first Unplugged by a female artist to debut at number one. The album's first single, "Unbreakable", peaked at number 34 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number four on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. It remained at number one on the Billboard Hot Adult R&B Airplay for 11 weeks. The album's second and final single, "Every Little Bit Hurts", was released in January 2006, it failed to enter the U.S. charts.
Keys opened a recording studio in Long Island, New York, called The Oven Studios, which she co-owns with her production and songwriting partner Kerry "Krucial" Brothers. The studio was designed by renowned studio architect John Storyk of WSDG, designer of Jimi Hendrix' Electric Lady Studios. Keys and Brothers are the co-founders of KrucialKeys Enterprises, a production and songwriting team who have assisted Keys in creating her albums as well as creating music for other artists.
2006–08: Film debut and As I Am
In 2006, Keys won three NAACP Image Awards, including Outstanding Female Artist and Outstanding Song for "Unbreakable". She also received the Starlight Award by the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In October 2006, she played the voice of Mommy Martian in the "Mission to Mars" episode of the children's television series The Backyardigans, in which she sang an original song, "Almost Everything Is Boinga Here". That same year, Keys nearly suffered a mental breakdown. Her grandmother had died and her family was heavily dependent on her. She felt she needed to "escape" and went to Egypt for three weeks. She explained: "That trip was definitely the most crucial thing I've ever done for myself in my life to date. It was a very difficult time that I was dealing with, and it just came to the point where I really needed to—basically, I just needed to run away, honestly. And I needed to get as far away as possible."
Keys made her film debut in early 2007 in the crime film Smokin' Aces, co-starring as an assassin named Georgia Sykes opposite Ben Affleck and Andy García. Keys received much praise from her co-stars in the film; Ryan Reynolds called her "so natural" and said she would "blow everybody away." Smokin' Aces was a moderate hit at the box office, earning $57,103,895 worldwide during its theatrical run. In the same year, Keys earned further praise for her second film, The Nanny Diaries, based on the 2002 novel of the same name, where she co-starred alongside Scarlett Johansson and Chris Evans. The Nanny Diaries had a hit moderate performance at the box office, earning only $44,638,886 worldwide during its theatrical run. She also guest starred as herself in the "One Man Is an Island" episode of the drama series Cane.
Keys released her third studio album, As I Am, in November 2007; it debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, selling 742,000 copies in its first week. It gained Keys her largest first week sales of her career and became her fourth consecutive number one album, tying her with Britney Spears for the most consecutive number-one debuts on the Billboard 200 by a female artist. The week became the second largest sales week of 2007 and the largest sales week for a female solo artist since singer Norah Jones' album Feels like Home in 2004. The album has sold three million copies in the United States and has been certified three times Platinum by the RIAA. It has sold five million copies worldwide. Keys received five nominations for As I Am at the 2008 American Music Award and ultimately won two. The album's lead single, "No One", peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for five consecutive weeks and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs for ten consecutive weeks, became her first number-one single in Hot 100 since 2004's "My Boo" and becoming Keys' third and fifth number-one single on each chart, respectively. The album's second single, "Like You'll Never See Me Again", was released in late 2007 and peaked at number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number one on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs for seven consecutive weeks. From October 27, 2007, when "No One" reached No. 1, through February 16, 2008, the last week "Like You'll Never See Me Again" was at No. 1, the Keys was on top of the chart for 17 weeks, more consecutive weeks than any other artist in Hot R&B/Hip/Hop Songs chart. The album's third single, "Teenage Love Affair", which peaked at number 54 on the 'Billboard Hot 100 and number three on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. The album's fourth and final single, "Superwoman", which peaked at number 82 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 12 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs.
"No One" earned Keys the awards for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song at the 2008 Grammy Awards. Keys opened the ceremony singing Frank Sinatra's 1950s song "Learnin' the Blues" as a "duet" with archival footage of Sinatra in video and "No One" with John Mayer later in the show. Keys also won Best Female R&B Artist during the show. She starred in "Fresh Takes", a commercial micro-series created by Dove Go Fresh, which premiered during The Hills on MTV from March to April 2008. The premiere celebrated the launch of new Dove Go Fresh. She also signed a deal as spokesperson with Glacéau's VitaminWater to endorse the product, and was in an American Express commercial for the "Are you a Cardmember?" campaign. Keys, along with The White Stripes' guitarist and lead vocalist Jack White, recorded the theme song to Quantum of Solace, the first duet in Bond soundtrack history. In 2008, Keys was ranked in at number 80 the Billboard Hot 100 All-Time Top Artists. She also starred in The Secret Life of Bees, a film adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd's acclaimed 2003 bestseller novel of the same name alongside Jennifer Hudson, Dakota Fanning, Paul Bettany and Queen Latifah, released in October 2008 via Fox Searchlight. The Secret Life of Bees had a hit moderate performance at the box office, earning only $39,947,322 worldwide during its theatrical run. Her role earned her a nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture at the NAACP Image Awards. She also received three nominations at the 2009 Grammy Awards and won Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for "Superwoman".
In an interview with Blender magazine, Keys allegedly said "'Gangsta rap' was a ploy to convince black people to kill each other, 'gangsta rap' didn't exist" and went on to say that it was created by "the government". The magazine also claimed she said that Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. were "essentially assassinated, their beefs stoked by the government and the media, to stop another great black leader from existing". Keys later wrote a statement clarifying the issues and saying her words were misinterpreted. Later that year, Keys was criticized by anti-smoking campaigners after billboard posters for her forthcoming concerts in Indonesia featured a logo for the A Mild cigarette brand sponsored by tobacco firm Philip Morris. She apologized after discovering that the concert was sponsored by the firm and asked for "corrective actions". In response, the company withdrew its sponsorship.
Influences and instrumentation
An accomplished pianist, Keys incorporates piano into a majority of her songs and often writes about love, heartbreak and female empowerment. She has cited several musicians as her inspirations, including Carole King, Whitney Houston, Prince, Nina Simone, Barbra Streisand, Marvin Gaye, Quincy Jones, Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder. Keys' style is rooted in gospel and vintage soul music, supplemented by bass and programmed drumbeats by Joseph Quevedo. She heavily incorporates classical piano with R&B, soul and jazz into her music. She began experimenting with other genres, including pop and rock, in her third studio album, As I Am, transitioning from neo soul to a 1980s and 1990s R&B sound with her fourth album, The Element of Freedom. Patrick Huguenin of the New York Daily News stated that her incorporation of classical piano riffs contributed to her breakout success. Jet magazine states she "thrives" by touching her fans with "piano mastery, words and melodious voice". The Independent described her style as consisting of "crawling blues coupled with a hip-hop backbeat", noting that her lyrics "rarely stray from matters of the heart". Blender magazine referred to her as "the first new pop artist of the millennium who was capable of changing music."
Voice and songwriting
Keys has a three octave contralto vocal range. She can sing from B flat over an octave below middle C (B♭2) to soprano C (C6). Often referred to as the "Princess of Soul", Keys has been commended as having a strong, raw and impassioned voice; others feel that her voice is "emotionally manufactured" at times and that she pushes her voice out of its natural range. Keys' songwriting is often criticized for lack of depth, which has led to her writing abilities being called limited: her lyrics have been called generic, clichéd and revolving around generalities. Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune feels that she "[pokes] around for multi-format hits rather than trying to project any sort of artistic vision". Conversely, Jon Pareles of Blender magazine stated that the musical compositio of her songs makes up for their lyrical weakness, while Gregory Stephen Tate of The Village Voice compared Keys' writing and production to 1970s music.