Alicia Keys

New songs to sing    ·    May 17th, 2005

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An ambitious Alicia Keys expands on her artistic ventures

And so the franchise begins.
At a time when other stars of her generation are looking for new ways to cash in on their celebrity, is it any surprise that somebody as talented, attractive and all-around appealing as Alicia Keys would venture outside of music to pursue creative outlets?

Keys plans on shooting the first of what she hopes will be many feature film roles in her career, as well as authoring several books, including a novel loosely based on her journal entries.

And that’s just for starters.

“I’m sure she’s going to go venturing into construction soon or perhaps … a cheese-steak stand,” quips Zena Burns, music editor at Teen People, which features Keys in its June/July “25 Hottest Stars Under 25″ issue. “She is SO versatile that she can do anything.”

Keys, herself, hasn’t any doubt about it.

Attaining pop-music stardom was just the start for the 25-year-old singer who is nearing the end of a very long tour in support of 2003’s triple-platinum album “The Diary of Alicia Keys.” The tour brings her to the Hollywood Bowl on Friday for a show that she promises will be “phenomenal from beginning to end” — more about that later.

Right now she is talking about starring in the film “Composition in Black and White,” a biopic about Phillipa Schuyler, a biracial piano prodigy who spent the early part of her career struggling against racism until finally achieving success in the ’50s. The film is scheduled for a 2006 release.

“It’s definitely the one I’m really, really excited about,” she says.

Keys, who began studying piano at age 7, only learned of Schuyler after being approached to star in the film by its producer, the Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry.

“(She) approached me and said how much she loved this story and this woman’s life … I finally started reading up on her and really realizing how much we had in common, myself and Phillipa, and how exciting it would be to tell this story about trying to break out of boundaries that people put you in,” she says.

Unlike Schuyler, Keys says she’s had little experience with racism.

The daughter of a biracial couple, she was raised by her white mother in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York City.

There, she says, “everyone is of multiple backgrounds, so fortunately I never had to feel like I was out of place.

“But I did experience (racism) when I left the city and I would go to small towns out in the Midwest or places like that. I was obviously different from everyone else, and they wanted to let me know it, so … I’m familiar with it. Fortunately … it didn’t affect me to the point where I had a crisis because of it.”

If anything, Keys’ biracial background is as much a part of her appeal to young fans as her proneness to getting acne.

“She’s not afraid to go out there and say, ‘Look, my skin is not so great. I’m a user of Proactiv because I’m normal just like you,” Burns says. “She doesn’t hold herself up to be this unattainable icy diva. She’s just really friendly and cool and refreshingly real.”

But can she act?

Keys says she already does — every time she takes the stage to sing.

“When a song is first created, it’s because of this deep emotion that provoked me to write it,” Keys says. “Fast forward six months later when I’m actually promoting an album, I may not be feeling that exact emotion … but I do have to tap back into that feeling and how I felt at that time that I wrote it so that I can portray it honestly.”

Keys has been plumbing a lot of those provocative emotions lately, and not just for lyrics. She’s in the process of writing her second book, a follow-up to last fall’s “Tears for Water: Songbook of Poems and Lyrics” (Putnam Books) that Publishers Weekly reckons “will be a compelling book of rock ephemera” for the Keys enthusiast.

As for the new book, Keys says it will be a fictionalized version of her life story told through journal entries and letters.

She’s also in talks about developing a series of mystery novels for young adults in the tradition of “The Hardy Boys” and “Nancy Drew” books that she read as a girl “but more about where I grew up and the life that I lived as a young kid and a young woman … more about experiences on that side,” she says, referring to her life before music mogul Clive Davis took her under his wing and made her a star.

That was 2001.

Two multiplatinum albums and five Grammys later, Keys is busier than ever. She’s producing songs for other artists through Krucial Keys, the company she founded with Kerry Brothers, her boyfriend. She’s also preparing for an “unplugged” album that will feature stripped-down versions of her previously recorded tracks, as well as a couple of new songs that she plans on recording after her tour ends next month.

But first it’s back to the tried and true.

Keys takes the Hollywood Bowl stage Friday accompanied by a 56-piece orchestra in a performance whose sounds and sights will recall the Cotton Club circa the 1930s.

From big-band numbers to jazzy torch songs, she says the night is completely thematic.

“It’s like transporting each and every one of us to a whole different time and era (in) the way that I’ve arranged the music,” she says. “It’s going to be unreal, I promise.”



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