When you think about music, beauty, intelligence, and creativity, who comes to your mind? Well, most of Alicia Keys fans will say she is all of the above. She has captivated audiences from black to white, young and old, old school to new school, and she’s just getting started.
Born and raised in New York, Alicia was destined to make it big. At the tender age of 7, Alicia was introduced to the piano. She studied classical music from Beethoven, Mozart, and Chopin (which was her favorite) and delved into such jazz greats as Marian McPartland, Oscar Peterson and Fats Waller. By the age of 14 she wrote her first song “Butterflyz” which is featured on her debut album “Songs in A Minor.” Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone, Donny Hathaway, were all her inspirations as were Biggie, Tupac, Jay-Z and Wu Tang. She took all of those different genres of music and rolled them all into one, to create a style all her own.
The road to success wasn’t an easy one. Born to a white mom, Terri Augello, and a black dad, Craig Cook, she grew up in Hell’s Kitchen, New York. To cope with the street life, Alicia turned to piano-playing at the age of 7. She attended the Professional Performing Arts High School and rehearsed with vocal coach Conrad Robinson at the Harlem Police Athletic League Community center until at age 16. During this time, Alicia graduated as her high school valedictorian and was accepted to attend Columbia University. Conrad introduced Keys to his brother Jeff, Alicia’s ‘batman”, who began searching for the right label.
Right before starting college, Alicia signed her first deal with Columbia Records, and had to make the difficult decision to leave college in order to pursue her musical dreams. However, Alicia later left Columbia Records due to creative differences. Keys felt they were intruding upon her artistic freedom, and she wanted out. At age 19, Alicia’s wish came true when Clive Davis, who headed up Arista Record at the time, came up with the money to buy Keys out of Columbia and had the same vision as Alicia. She had found a new home with Clive Davis and when he established his new label J Records, Alicia moved with him. Finally, she had a home; a place she could be herself.
Next came the fierce marketing campaign. Davis says “Fallin’ fell between the charts at radio - but it was her signature song. So we had to get around radio.” Her big break came when Oprah Winfrey agreed to have Keys on the show. After a dynamic performance of Fallin’ with 40 million people watching, the number of albums being shipped for the week of release doubled.
The June 26, 2001 release of ‘Songs in A minor’ debuted at number 1 on the charts and after 29 weeks, and continued to remain in the top 20, going over 7 million times platinum worldwide. Her first single “Fallin” ended the year at No. 2 on the Billboards Hot 100 chart, spending weeks at the number 1 spot.
With countless achievements all around the world Alicia is still as humble and real as they come. Her follow-up album to “Songs In A Minor”, “The Diary Of Alicia Keys”, was released in December 2003. This album, like the last, shows vocal maturity beyond her years, and incorporates measures of soul, hip-hop, pop, early ’80s Casio sounds and nods to the Blaxploitation era. Of course through it all are the keys - sometimes indulgent, other times sparing, but at every stage indicative of her amazing musical gift.
While Keys’s music has sometimes been criticised for being unadventurous and leaning too heavily on both its retro influences and her classical roots, over seven million record buyers so far haven’t let this ruin their enjoyment of her album. There are awards in her trophy cabinet most of us have never heard of, and whether she breaks new musical ground or not, it’s worth mentioning that she’s got this far without revealing so much as an upper thigh.
Having just turned 23, Keys now faces the prospect of being a grown-up artist. She has two albums under her belt, and can no longer be considered freakishly young. Yet, while the authenticity of the ‘Keys’ name might be questionable, her resilience is invested in her future by way of her company, Krucial Keys Enterprises, and by continuing to hone her abilites with on-going piano lessons. It’s this drive - as much as her gifts - that will ensure Keys holds more than just a nominative place in music for many years to come.