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Alicia Keys

Alicia J. Augello-Cook (born January 25, 1981), better known by her stage name Alicia Keys, is an American R&B singer-songwriter, pianist and actress. Keys has sold over 30 million albums worldwide and has won numerous awards, including eleven Grammy Awards, seventeen Billboard Music Awards, and three American Music Awards.

Her debut album Songs in A Minor was a worldwide success, selling over 11 million copies, and received five Grammy Awards in 2002, with Alicia winning Best New Artist and also Song of the Year for "Fallin'".

Early life

Keys was born in the Manhattan neighborhood of Harlem, in New York City, New York, the daughter and only child of Teresa "Terria" Augello, a paralegal and part-time actress, and Craig Cook, a flight attendant. Keys' mother is of Irish, Italian and puerto rican descent, and her father is Jamaican. Keys describes herself as comfortable with her biracial heritage : "I grew up in New York, and thank God, I never had to go through that in regards to, 'You're not black enough, you're not white enough,' the whole kind of white/black-mixture thing. I never had to go through that. I went through prejudices and all, surely. But I never had to battle with those two parts of me."

Keys' parents separated during her early childhood, and she was subsequently raised by her mother during her formative years in Hell's Kitchen, also in Manhattan. In 1985, Keys and a group of other girls played the parts of Rudy Huxtable's sleepover guests in an episode of The Cosby Show called "Slumber Party".a She began playing the piano when she was seven, learning classical music by composers such as Beethoven, Mozart, and her favorite, Chopin. Keys almost chose Wilde as her stage name at age sixteen until her manager suggested the name Keys after a dream he had. Keys felt that name represented her both as a performer and person.

Keys graduated from the Professional Performing Arts School, a prestigious high school in Manhattan, as valedictorian at the age of sixteen in only three years. Although accepted to Columbia University, she decided to drop out and pursue her musical career. Keys signed a demo deal with Jermaine Dupri and his So So Def label, then distributed by Columbia Records. She co-wrote and recorded a song entitled "Dah Dee Dah (Sexy Thing)", which appeared on the soundtrack to the 1997 blockbuster, Men in Black. The song was Keys' first professional recording; however, it was never released as a single and her record contract with Columbia Records ended quickly. Keys later met Clive Davis, who signed her to Arista Records, which has since disbanded. Following Davis to his newly-formed J Records label, she recorded the songs "Rock wit U" and "Rear View Mirror", featured on the soundtracks to the films Shaft (2000) and Dr. Dolittle 2 (2001) respectively. Keys then released her debut album, Songs in A Minor.

Music career

Songs in A Minor (2001)

Main article: Songs in A Minor

Selling over 235,000 copies in its first week (more than 50,000 of those on its first day), Songs in A Minor, released on June 5, 2001, went on to sell over ten million units worldwide, and established Keys' popularity both outside and inside the U.S., where she became the best-selling new artist of 2001 (as well as the best-selling R&B artist). The album's first single, "Fallin'", gained radio airplay on many different radio formats and spent six weeks at number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. Keys performed Donny Hathaway's 1973 song "Someday We'll All Be Free" at the America: A Tribute to Heroes televised benefit concert following the September 11, 2001 attacks. Another single from Songs in A Minor, "A Woman's Worth", made the top ten in the U.S. as well. The album led Keys to win five Grammy Awards in 2002: "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 thus become only the second female solo artist to win five Grammy Awards in a single night (following Lauryn Hill in 1999). On October 22, 2002, Songs in A Minor was reissued as Remixed & Unplugged in A Minor, including eight remixes and seven unplugged versions of some of the songs from the original.

Critical reviews of the album were mostly positive. Keys' work had a sound similar to 1970s soul singers such as Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder along with hip hop influences like those apparent in neo soul artists such as Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, and D'Angelo.

By that time, Keys wrote, produced, played the piano, and sang background for Christina Aguilera's song "Impossible", from the latter's 2002 album Stripped.

The Diary of Alicia Keys (2003)

Main article: The Diary of Alicia Keys

Keys followed up her debut with The Diary of Alicia Keys, released on December 2, 2003. The album was hailed by critics, and debuted at number one in the U.S., selling over 618,000 copies its first week of release, becoming the sixth biggest-selling album by a female artist and the second biggest-selling album by a female R&B artist. To date, it has sold nine million copies worldwide.

The singles "You Don't Know My Name" and "If I Ain't Got You" both reached the top five of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and another single, "Diary", entered the top ten. The classical/hip hop-flavored "Karma" was less successful, peaking at number twenty on the Billboard Hot 100 but more successful on the Top 40 Mainstream peaking at number three. "If I Ain't Got You" became the first single by a female artist to remain on the sixty-three-year-old Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart for more than one year, surpassing Mary J. Blige's "Your Child", which had remained on the chart for forty-nine weeks. Keys went on to become the best-selling female R&B artist of 2004.

At the 2004 MTV Video Music Awards, Keys won "Best R&B Video" for "If I Ain't Got You", and also led Lenny Kravitz and Stevie Wonder in their version of Wonder's "Higher Ground". In 2005, Keys won her second consecutive award for "Best R&B Video", this time for the video for "Karma".

At the 2005 Grammy Awards, Keys performed the album's second single, "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. 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. She was also nominated for "Album of the Year" for The Diary of Alicia Keys, "Song of the Year" for "If I Ain't Got You", "Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals" for "Diary" (featuring Tony! Toni! Toné!), and "Best R&B Song" for "My Boo".

Unplugged (2005)

Main article: Unplugged (Alicia Keys album)

Keys performed and taped her installment of the MTV Unplugged series on July 14, 2005 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. During this live session, Keys added brand-new arrangements to her original songs such as "A Woman's Worth" and the funk-driven "Heartburn", and performed a few choice covers. Part of Keys' audience also included her guest performers; she collaborated with rappers Common and Mos Def on "Love It or Leave It Alone", reggae artist Damian Marley on "Welcome to Jamrock", and Maroon 5 lead singer Adam Levine on a cover of The Rolling Stones' 1971 "Wild Horses". In addition to this, she had a cover of "Every Little Bit Hurts", previously recorded by singers such as Aretha Franklin and Brenda Holloway, Keys also premiered two new original songs: "Stolen Moments", which she co-wrote with producer Paul L. Green, and "Unbreakable", the album's lead single, which peaked at number four and number thirty-four on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and the Hot 100 respectively. It was more successful on the Billboard Hot Adult R&B Airplay, where it stayed at number one for eleven weeks in late 2005. The session was released on CD and DVD on October 11, 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. So far the album has sold one million copies in the United States and two million copies worldwide. The debut of Keys' Unplugged was the highest debut 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 received four nominations at the 2006 Grammy Awards: "Best Female R&B Vocal Performance" for "Unbreakable", "Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance" for "If I Was Your Woman", "Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals" for her rendition of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's classic "If This World Were Mine" with Jermaine Paul, "Best R&B Song" for "Unbreakable", and "Best R&B Album". It also won three NAACP Image Awards that same year: "Outstanding Female Artist", "Outstanding Song" for "Unbreakable", and "Outstanding Music Video" for "Unbreakable".

As I Am (2007)

Main article: As I Am

Since late 2006, Keys worked on her third studio album, As I Am—whose title was confirmed in a red-carpet interview at the 2007 BET Awards on June 26—, released on November 13, 2007. Keys talked to MTV in early 2007 about the album: "It's coming together incredibly. I am in love with this album. It's very fresh and new". Rolling Stone magazine reported in December 2005 that Keys and her long-term songwriting partner Kerry "Krucial" Brothers would start working seriously on the album in the later half of 2006.

As I Am debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 with first-week sales of 742,000 copies, gaining Keys the second largest sales week of 2007 and the largest sales week for a female solo artist since Norah Jones' 2004 album Feels Like Home, and also set a record as Keys' largest sales week of her career. As I Am became Keys 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. In addition, the album also debuted at number one on the United World Chart selling 876,000. Since then, As I Am has sold over one million copies in two weeks of its debut, selling 359,000 copies in the second week. The lead single "No One" debuted at number seventy-one on the Billboard Hot 100, and has since peaked at number one, becoming Keys' third number one on the chart, and was also her fifth number one on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. Furthermore, the song earned Keys the awards for "Best Female R&B Vocal Performance" and "Best R&B Song" at the 2008 Grammy Awards on February 10. Keys opened the ceremony singing Frank Sinatra's 1950s song "Learnin' the Blues" as a "duet" with archival footage of Sinatra in video. Later on, she performed "No One" with John Mayer. The album's second single, "Like You'll Never See Me Again", released in late 2007, reached the top fifteen of the Billboard Hot 100, and secured another R&B chart-topper for Keys. The album's third single was Teenage Love Affair, after it debuted on the Billboard R&B chart at 60 which has now peaked at 3. The video was released on April 23, 2008, with a Spike Lee's School Daze Theme. Alicia Keys brought girl power — actually, grown woman power — to the stage during her performance of "Teenage Love Affair" at the BET Awards '08 on June 24 Keys started with her hit, then transitioned into classics by top female R&B acts. SWV came out for "Weak"; En Vogue stepped onstage for "Hold On"; and TLC came out for "Waterfalls." The TLC segment was poignant as Chilli and T-Boz sang without Left Eye. Keys also won at "Best R&B Female Artist" at the BET show.

Keys has confirmed that Superwoman will be the 4th and final single from the album As I Am.

Keys has opened a new 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 assisted Keys in creating her award-winning albums as well as create music for other artists.

Alicia Keys and the White Stripes' Jack White will record the theme song to Quantum of Solace, the 22nd James Bond film, which hits U.S. theaters Nov. 7. The song, "Another Way to Die", will be the first duet in Bond soundtrack history. White wrote and produced the song, and also will play drums. The soundtrack to the movie will be released Oct. 28. The score for the film will be composed by David Arnold. Amy Winehouse and Leona Lewis had previously been rumored as the vocalists for the latest Bond theme .

Keys also is preparing to record a theme song for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. Keys who joins Joss Stone and Jay-Z on the effort, was approached by the presidential nominee according to The Sun to record a track that will serve as a theme song for his campaign. Keys and Jay-Z also reported to be penning songs for the project .

Film and television career

TV

Keys was first seen on the television screen on the Cosby Show in 1985. She was on the "Slumber Party" episode, which originally aired on March 28, 1985. She played the part of Maria, one of Rudy's (Keshia Knight Pulliam) friends. She is listed in the credits as Alicia Cook.

During the early 2000s, Keys made small cameos in such television series as Charmed and American Dreams. In early 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 the song "Almost Everything Is Boinga Here". Keys guest starred as herself in the "One Man Is an Island" episode of the drama series Cane, first aired on November 6, 2007.

Alicia Keys starred in "Fresh Takes," a micro-series created by Dove go fresh, aimed at giving women a fresh take on life in their twenties. The series, premiered during "The Hills" on MTV in March to April 2008. The series followed three girlfriends as they embark on their adult lives juggling the pressures of being a 20-something woman – career, relationship, beauty, family and friends – all intensified by their own critical inner voice. Amidst these pressures, friendship, humor and honesty help them realize a wider definition of success and ultimately feel beautiful. This premiere celebrated the launch of new Dove go fresh – a fragrance-driven product collection.

Film

Keys made her big-screen debut in early 2007 in the crime film Smokin' Aces, co-starring as an assassin named Georgia Sykes opposite Ben Affleck, Ray Liotta, Common, Andy Garcia, Taraji P. Henson, Jeremy Piven and Ryan Reynolds. Keys received much praise from her co-stars in the film; Reynolds said that Keys had "natural" acting ability as he was surprised she had not starred in films before.

Keys earned further praise for her second film outing, The Nanny Diaries—based on the 2002 novel of the same name by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus—, released on August 24, 2007, in which she co-stars alongside Scarlett Johansson and Chris Evans as Lynette, Johansson's character Annie's best friend. Brooklyn's Kingsborough Community College was used to film the college graduation scene for the film.

Keys and her long-term manager Jeff Robinson have signed a first-look film production deal to develop live-action and animated projects with Disney, Variety reports. Their first film, a remake of the 1958 comedy Bell, Book and Candle, will star Keys as a witch who casts a love spell to lure a rival's fiancé. Keys and Robinson have also formed a television production company called Big Pita. Their first project will be a CW Network TV series inspired by Keys' experiences as a biracial child growing up in New York, similar to the network's Everybody Hates Chris. Keys has been tapped to executively produce an upcoming TV drama. The title and airing date are presently unconfirmed. Keys and Robinson said they will develop live-action and animated projects at their company, Big Pita, Little Pita, with Keys participating as producer, thesp, banner spearheading soundtrack, and music supervision.

Keys has signed to star in a film adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd's acclaimed 2003 bestseller The Secret Life of Bees alongside Jennifer Hudson and Queen Latifah, expected to be released in 2008 via Fox Searchlight. Gina Prince-Bythewood will direct the film, whose filming is to begin in January in North Carolina.

Keys will also play 1940s biracial piano child prodigy Philippa Schuyler in an upcoming film entitled Composition in Black and White. It is based on the 1995 biographical book of the same name by Kathryn Talalay and follows the story of Philippa Schuyler. "The challenge, in order to actually be able to play classical piano as a woman of mixed race, was by far more than I could ever imagine", Keys said. "That's what intrigued me about that role". The biopic will tell the difficult tale of Schuyler's controversial career, love-hate relationship with her mother, and the black community, her second career as a writer, and her eventual death in a helicopter accident. "Her story is very deep, even up to the point where the relationship between her and her mother gets very strained and she chooses to go to Europe and pass as a Spanish woman in order to be able to play, in order to be able to live a more normal life", Keys said, adding that she and Halle Berry hope to start shooting in early 2008. "As of right now, we're still in the first, second draft of the script", she said. "So a little bit of time—at least a year".

Philanthropy

Besides being a musician, Keys is also a philanthropist. She is the Global Ambassador for Keep a Child Alive, a non-profit organization that provides life-saving AIDS medicines directly to children and families with HIV/AIDS in Africa. Keys and U2 lead singer Bono recorded a cover version of Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush's "Don't Give Up", in recognition of World AIDS Day 2006. Keys and Bono's version of the song was retitled "Don't Give Up (Africa)" to show the two musicians' support for helping to raise awareness of people living with HIV and AIDS and acknowledging the twenty-five million Africans (forty million people worldwide) living with the disease.

Keys has visited African countries such as Uganda, Kenya, and South Africa to promote care for children affected by AIDS. Keys, the global ambassador and co-founder of Keep a Child Alive, jet in on a four-day working visit in Masaka, Uganda on April 10, 2006 to bolster the HIV/AIDS crusade and give a ray of hope to families and children devastated by the scourge. Keys visited sites funded by the organization "and brought footage home to the American public to encourage them to do more to help", according to a KACA statement. Throughout her visit, a film crew followed and documented the progress at both of these facilities for American news outlets.

Keys is also a spokeswoman for Frum tha Ground Up, a charity devoted to inspiring, encouraging, and motivating American youths to achieve success on all levels. Keys also participated in other humanitarian efforts in 2005 by performing at several exclusive concerts and television shows. On July 2, Keys performed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as part of the worldwide Live 8 concerts. The mission of the concerts was to raise awareness of the on-going poverty in Africa and to pressure the G8 leaders to take action by doubling aid, canceling debt, and delivering trade justice for Africa. In August 2005, Keys performed on ReAct Now: Music & Relief, a benefit program shown on music video channels to raise money for those affected by Hurricane Katrina. The following month, Keys performed at Shelter from the Storm: A Concert for the Gulf Coast, another Hurricane Katrina benefit concert.

Keys is an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated.

On July 7, 2007, Keys and Keith Urban performed The Rolling Stones' 1969 hit "Gimme Shelter" at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey at the American leg of the Live Earth concerts.

Keys participated at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert which took place at the Oslo Spektrum in Oslo, Norway, on December 11, 2007, together with a variety of artists. The concert was broadcast to over one hundred countries.

In June 2008, Keys performed on the BET Awards alongside with R&B legends SWV, En Vogue, and TLC it was a tribute to some of the girl groups from the 90s.

Her work in Africa is documented in the upcoming documentary Alicia in Africa, set for a July 4, 2008 release.

Endorsements

  • Alicia Keys is a spokesperson for Dove's Go Fresh product and starred in a five-episode microseries which was transmitted on Monday's during the MTV The Hills (TV Series) commercial breaks.
  • Alicia Keys recently signed a deal as spokesperson with Glacéau's Vitamin Water that is worth more than $25 million.
  • Alicia Keys did a commercial for American Express.

Controversy

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 "Tupac and Biggie were essentially assassinated, their beefs stoked by the government and the media, to stop another great black leader from existing." However, Keys wrote a statement clarifying the issues and saying her words were misinterpreted.

On July 28, 2008, 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 a concert was sponsored by the firm and asked for "corrective actions". As a result, the company withdrew their sponsorship.

Mentions in popular culture

  • Key was first referenced in B2K's song Girlfriend.

Get out the Benz and them I'm off up in the Jeep Take ya fix with chicks that look like Alicia Keys

  • Keys was referenced in Missy Elliott's song "Hurt Sumthin", from the Honey Soundtrack Album. In the first verse of the song Missy Elliott say's:

Check out my pants, The sexy way I dance,
Then switch my style again cos the method's borin'
Make me a bill, a million dollar bill, I'm on top with you like Alicia fallin'

  • Keys was referenced in Bob Dylan's song "Thunder on the Mountain", from his 2006 album Modern Times. The second verse of the song has the following lines:

I was thinkin' 'bout Alicia Keys, couldn't keep from crying
When she was born in Hell's Kitchen, I was living down the line
I'm wondering where in the world Alicia Keys could be
I been looking for her even clear through Tennessee

  • Keys was also referenced in "Think About You" by Luther Vandross from his album Dance with My Father. In this song, Vandross says:

Bought a pillow for my room (I thought about you)
Heard Alicia sing a tune (I thought about you)
It sends my rocket to the moon
Every time I think about you

  • Kanye West mentioned Alicia in his remix of "Throw Some D's" by Rich Boy. In his second verse, West says:

I dont need no hands to know Lindsey Lohan
On the same program as Britney, is you wit' me?
That's why I respect Alicia Keys, She say fuck gettin' them D's
I'ma just ride wit' these

  • Keys was referenced in Canadian singer Keshia Chante's song "Little Things" from both her self titled debut album and sophomore album "2U". It says"

I head downs stairs, the first thing I see
Is a note there waiting saying
"There's a concert tonight, thought you'd wanna go
I hear that Alicia's got a real good show"

  • In addition, underground rapper Canibus mentioned Alicia Keys in the song "Poet Laureate II", saying:

You wonder why I never let you play your beats for me?
Or why I keep my studio shrouded in secrecy?
You wonder what's my infatuation with Alicia Keys?
"Canibus, why won't you speak to me?"

  • Keys was recently declared by conceptual artist Sleepless Beauty to be the most beautiful woman in existence, a title previously held by actress Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Discography

Main article: Alicia Keys discography

Albums

  • 2001: Songs in A Minor
  • 2003: The Diary of Alicia Keys
  • 2005: Unplugged
  • 2007: As I Am

Number-one singles

The following singles reached number one in the United States, the U.S. Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, the U.S. Pop 100, the U.S. Hot Dance Club Play, Canada, Europe and/or the United World Chart. For a full singles discography, see Alicia Keys discography.

Filmography

Films

Television

Books

  • Keys, Alicia (2001). Songs in A Minor. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 0634037765. 
  • Keys, Alicia (2004). The Diary of Alicia Keys. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 0634077643. 
  • Keys, Alicia (2004). Tears for Water: Songbook of Poems and Lyrics. G. P. Putnam's Sons. ISBN 0425205606. 

Tears for Water: Songbook of Poems and Lyrics

Alicia Keys released her novel, Tears for Water: songbook of Poems & Lyrics, in 2004. Keys stated, “All my life, I’ve written these words with no thought or intention of sharing them. Not even with my confidants.” This novel consists of her innermost thoughts about everything; life, observations, emotions, her past, modern society, etc. “Some of them are painful; some of them are just observations, some silly, some that have affected me so deeply and with such frustration that they only way to express the confusion was to write it down.” Tears for Water is filled with a wide variety of poems, with various categories and topics, for instance, there are poems on war, prostitution, strippers, landscapes in Spain, democracy and politics, and more. She says she calls this novel Tears for Water because, "…everything I have ever written has stemmed from my tears of joy, or pain, of sorrow, of depression, even of question." Keys has a common style of writing throughout all of poems which permits the reader to relate to her poems without struggle. All of her poetry lacks a form of alliteration and assonance, the effect created when words with the same initial letter, either constants or vowels, are used in close proximity. Also, she uses a free verse structure, the lack of a formal meter or rhyme pattern and instead relies upon natural rhythms of her everyday speech. In certain poems, a form of dissonance is used, the deliberate use of inharmonious syllables, words, or phrases in order to create a harsh-toned effect. Along with the poems in this novel, she includes the lyrics to her first albums Songs in A minor and The Diary of Alicia Keys, and a few excerpts explaining the meaning behind some of her poems and why they were written.

  • Keys, Alicia (2006). Unplugged. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 1423408225. 
  • Keys, Alicia (2006). How Can I Keep from Singing?: Transforming the Lives of African Children and Families Affected by AIDS. Umbrage. ISBN 1884167608. 

Tours

  • 2001: American Tour
  • 2001/2002: European Tour
  • 2004: Asian/Australian Tour
  • 2004: Verizon Ladies First Tour (with Beyoncé and Missy Elliott)
  • 2004: European Tour
  • 2005: The Diary Tour (U.S.)
  • 2008: As I Am Tour (Canada, Europe, U.S, and Asia.)