Alicia Keys

Alicia Tries Different Key    ·    April 8th, 2005

http://bellakeys.com/alicia/index.html

Given all the awards her music has won, maybe Alicia Keys should set aside some space on the mantel in case her film career takes off the same way.

Keys, 24, recently won her sixth through ninth Grammys, including best R&B album for her 2003 release, “The Diary of Alicia Keys.” Her first five Grammys came for “Songs in A Minor,” the singer’s 2001 debut.

Now she’s on a tour that stops Wednesday and April 14 at Foxwoods Resort Casino, before she steps onto a movie set later this year to star in “Compositions in Black and White.” The movie, produced by Halle Berry and adapted from Kathryn Talalay’s book, recounts the life of child piano prodigy Philippa Schuyler. The biracial musician, daughter of African American author George Schuyler and white Texas artist Josephine Cogdell, began composing music at age 4 in the 1930s and struggled with prejudice in this country before achieving international fame in the ’50s.

It’s a story that has obvious parallels to Keys, who began developing her own musical talent at a young age. She started playing piano at age 7, wrote songs as a teenager, majored in choir at the Professional Performance Arts School in Manhattan and enrolled in Columbia University at age 16 before dropping out to focus on music.

Beyond that, though, Keys says she identifies with the idea of “trying to find where you fit in this world.”

She says she is excited about the role.

“It’s the humanness of the character that really talked to me, and I found it something that I would be really interested in,” she says over the phone.

Just digging into the archival material on Schuyler has been a worthwhile experience for Keys.

“They have recordings of her when she was like 7, and I guess there were these construction workers in the house fixing something, and she wrote a song about these workers working,” Keys says. “To be able to hear another perspective on the classical side of someone just creating from reality, that really connected for me.”

Keys has another movie role in the works, too, though the deal isn’t far enough along for her to talk about. It’s a big move for her, in today’s synergistic entertainment world where actors want to make records and singers want to make movies.

But what makes Keys think she can act? Mostly the fact that she started doing that at a young age, too.

“I acted from when I was little in all types of things that would probably embarrass me now,” she says with a laugh.

Her mother, Terri Augello, is an actress, too, and Keys (born Alicia Augello Cook) remembers spending a lot of time at rehearsals as a little girl.

“She always dragged me to plays that she was rehearsing, and I fell asleep in too many theaters watching her,” Keys says.

Despite the time her movie roles will demand, Keys says she doesn’t expect to get too far away from music, particularly with the Schuyler role.

“It’s looking like whatever movie I choose to do first, they will all allow me to express myself through acting, but also musically, because I will be heavily involved in the score and the music that is around the movie,” she says. “I personally think that it’s going to open me up in a whole new way that I haven’t experienced yet.”

That’s an important factor for someone as connected to her music as Keys is. Her debut came out of nowhere to sell 50,000 copies on the first day it was in stores, and the stuffed shirts at her record label confidently predicted she would suffer no sophomore slump with “The Diary of Alicia Keys.” They were right: The album, presented as a series of journal entries, has sold more than 3 million copies. Her debut has been certified six times platinum, with sales of more than 6 million copies. (Hartford audiences may remember that Keys played a free Independence Day concert at the Hartford Riverfest celebration in 2001, booked before her first album was released.)

Despite shaky live performances - she immediately hit the road with a 90-minute headlining set, which was tough to wring out of a 45-minute album - Keys’ reputation as a musician continued to build. Winning five Grammys, including best new artist, in 2002 didn’t hurt either. She says she remembers winning the ninth one as clearly as she remembers getting the first.

“It felt as crazy then as it did for the last one,” she says. “But it felt super-crazy then.”

No one gets into music with the idea of winning awards (and if they do, most don’t admit it publicly), and Keys says she never expected the bounty she has received.

“It was the furthest thought from my mind. I was just creating music or expressing myself or whatever,” she says. “In the grand scheme of things, they’re nothing but metal, but I think in a lot of ways it definitely shows the respect and appreciation for my music from a variety of people.”

Alicia Keys performs Wednesday and April 14 at Foxwoods Resort Casino, with John Legend opening. Tickets are $125 and $100 for the 7 p.m. show. Information: 800-200- 2882.


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