Alicia Augello-Cook Dean, known professionally as Alicia Keys, is an American musician, singer, composer, actress and pianist.
A classically-trained pianist, Keys was composing songs by age 12 and was signed at 15 years old by Columbia Records.
Her first Billboard Hot 100 number-one single “Fallin'” and selling over 16 million copies worldwide. The album earned Keys five Grammy Awards in 2002
- Profession: American Singer & Musician
- Full name: Alicia Augello-Cook Dean
- Born: 25 January 1981, Hell’s Kitchen, New York, United States
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About Alicia Keys
Alicia was born on 25 January 1981, in the Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan, New York City, United States. She is the only child of Teresa (Augello), who was a paralegal and part-time actress, and one of three children of Craig Cook, who was a flight attendant.
Keys’ father is of Jamaican descent and her mother is of Italian descent; her maternal grandparents came from Sciacca in Sicily.
Keys states she also has some Scottish or Irish ancestry. Named after her Puerto Rican godmother, Keys expressed that she was comfortable with her multiracial heritage because she felt she was able to “relate to different cultures”.
Keys’ father left when she was two and she was subsequently raised by her mother during her formative years in Hell’s Kitchen.
Keys loved music and singing from early childhood. She recalled her mother playing jazz records of artists like Thelonious Monk, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong on Sunday mornings, early musical moments Keys considers influential in kindling her interest in and emotional connection to music.
In preschool, Keys sung in her school’s production of the musical Cats and was cast as Dorothy Gale in a production of The Wizard of Oz.
Keys discovered she had a passion for the piano by age six, as she loved the sound and feel of the instrument and desired to play and learn it.
A friend had given her an old, upright piano, a pivotal gift for Keys as it allowed her to play and take lessons as a child.
Keys began receiving classical piano training by age seven, practicing six hours a day, learning the Suzuki method and playing composers such as Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, and Satie.
She was particularly drawn to “blue, dark, shadowy” and melancholic compositions, as well as the passionate romanticism of “blue composers” like Chopin.
Inspired by the film Philadelphia, Keys wrote her first song about her departed grandfather on her piano by age 12.
The scene in the film where Tom Hanks’s character listens to opera on a record player notably affected Keys, who “never showed emotion very well”. After seeing the film, Keys, “for the first time, could express how she felt through the music.”
Classical piano totally helped me to be a better songwriter and a better musician…I knew the fundamentals of music. And I understood how to put things together and pull it together and change it. The dedication that it took to study classical music is a big reason why I have anything in this life I think. … [It] was a big influence on me. It opened a lot of doors because it separated me from the rest. […] And it did help me structure my songs.
Keys’ mother had encouraged her to participate in different extracurricular activities, including music, dance, theater, and gymnastics, so she could “find her muse”.
Her extracurricular activities gave her focus and drive, and helped keep her out of trouble. Keys remained so occupied with her various pursuits that she experienced her first burnout before adolescence.
Before her 13th birthday, she expressed to her mother that she was too overwhelmed and wanted to disengage, at which point her mother took some time off with her and encouraged her to keep focusing on piano.
Keys would continue studying classical music until the age of 18. Keys regards her education in classical piano and dedication to classical music as vital for her stability in her youth and her development as a musician and songwriter. Keys later said of her classical background:
That type of studying, that type of discipline…after a while, I realized what it provided me – focus, the ability to pay attention for a long enough period of time to make progress; the work ethic; the actual knowledge of music, that then unlocked the ability to write my own music, put my own chords and things I heard in my own head to different lyrics that I maybe felt, and I never, ever had to wait for anybody to write something for me.
Keys enrolled in the Professional Performing Arts School at the age of 12, where she took music, dance, and theater classes and majored in choir.
In her preteen years, Keys and her bass-playing friend formed their first group, though neither “knew too much about how pop songs worked”.
Keys would continue singing, writing songs, and performing in musical groups throughout junior high and high school.
She became an accomplished pianist, and after her classical music teacher had nothing left to teach her, she began studying jazz at age 14.
Living in the “musical melting pot” city, Keys had already been discovering other genres of music, including soul music, hip hop, R&B, and taken affinity to artists like Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield.
Keen on dissecting music, Keys continued developing her songwriting and finding her own ‘flow and style” through her exploration of the intricacies in different music.
Keys spent more time in Harlem during her teenage years. She connected with the cultural and racial diversity in the neighborhood, where she expanded upon her musical exploration, and her character was also solidified. “Harlem raised me in a lot of ways,” Keys remarked. “[It] taught me how to think fast, how to play the game…taught me leadership, how to get out of bad situations when you need to, how to hold my own.” During this period, she met her friend and future collaborator Kerry Brothers Jr.
After disputes with the label, she signed with Arista Records, and later released her debut album, Songs in A Minor, with J Records in 2001.
The album was critically and commercially successful, producing her first Billboard Hot 100 number-one single “Fallin'” and selling over 16 million copies worldwide.
The album earned Keys five Grammy Awards in 2002. Her second album, The Diary of Alicia Keys (2003), was also a critical and commercial success, spawning successful singles “You Don’t Know My Name”, “If I Ain’t Got You”, and “Diary”, and selling eight million copies worldwide.
The album garnered her an additional four Grammy Awards. Her duet “My Boo” with Usher became her second number-one single in 2004.
Keys released her first live album, Unplugged (2005), and became the first woman to have an MTV Unplugged album debut at number one. Keys hosted the Grammys two years in a row (2019-2020).
Her third album, As I Am (2007), produced the Hot 100 number-one single “No One”, selling 7 million copies worldwide and earning an additional three Grammy Awards. In 2007, Keys made her film debut in the action-thriller film Smokin’ Aces.
She, along with Jack White, recorded “Another Way to Die” (the title song to the 22nd official James Bond film, Quantum of Solace).
Her fourth album, The Element of Freedom (2009), became her first chart-topping album in the UK, and sold 4 million copies worldwide.
In 2009, Keys also collaborated with Jay Z on “Empire State of Mind”, which became her fourth number-one single and won the Grammy Award for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.
Girl on Fire (2012) was her fifth Billboard 200 topping album, spawning the successful title track, and won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Album.
In 2013, VH1 Storytellers was released as her second live album. Her sixth studio album, Here (2016), became her seventh US R&B/Hip-Hop chart topping album. In 2020 announces the seventh studio album Alicia.
Keys has received numerous accolades in her career, including 15 competitive Grammy Awards, 17 NAACP Image Awards, 12 ASCAP Awards, and an award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame and National Music Publishers Association.
She has sold over 65 million records worldwide. Considered a musical icon, Keys was named by Billboard the top R&B artist of the 2000s decade and placed number 10 on their list of Top 50 R&B/Hip-Hop Artists of the Past 25 Years.
VH1 also included her on their 100 Greatest Artists of All Time and 100 Greatest Women in Music lists, while Time has named her in their 100 list of most influential people in 2005 and 2017.
Keys is also acclaimed for her humanitarian work, philanthropy and activism. She co-founded and is the Global Ambassador of the nonprofit HIV/AIDS-fighting organization Keep a Child Alive.