Alicia Keys was born to an Irish-Italian mother, Terri
Augello, and a Jamaican father, Craig Cook, in the Harlem
neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City, New York, and was
raised in poverty in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, also of
Manhattan, New York City. In 1985, Keys and a group of other
girls won the parts of Rudy Huxtable's sleepover guests in an
episode of The Cosby Show (the episode became the only time Keys
was credited under her real name). She began playing piano when
she was seven, learning classical music by composers such as
Beethoven, Mozart, and her favorite Chopin. Alicia Keys wrote
her first song "Butterflyz" at the age of fourteen; the song was
later recorded for her debut album. Alicia's mother and father
separated during her early childhood, thus she was raised by her
mother during her formative years; her mother was the one who
most supported her during the time she was developing her
musical talents. The press reported in 2005 that Keys was
attempting to reconcile with her father. However, Keys denied
this and said her words were misinterpreted.
Alicia Keys graduated from the Professional Performing Arts School, a high school in Manhattan, at the age of sixteen. She was accepted to Columbia University but never attended, devoting herself instead to a full-time musical career. Keys signed a demo deal with Jermaine Dupri and his So So Def label, then distributed to Columbia Records. Alicia Keys wrote and recorded a song entitled "Dah Dee Dah (S--y Thing)" which appeared on the soundtrack for the 1997 blockbuster, Men in Black. The song was Keys' first professional recording, it was never released as a single and her record contract with Columbia Records was ended quickly and Keys later met Clive Davis who signed her to Arista Records, which has since disbanded. Following her mentor Clive Davis to his newly-formed J Records label, she recorded songs "Rock Wit U" and "Rear View Mirror" which featured on the soundtracks to the movies Shaft (2000) and Dr. Dolittle 2 (2001) respectively. Keys then released her debut album Songs in A Minor in 2001, the title being a reference to both her classical aspirations and to the fact that she wrote most of the songs at a very young age.
Over 235,000 copies sold in its first week (more than 50,000 of those in its first day). It went on to sell more than ten million units worldwide, and established Alicia's popularity both outside and inside the U.S., where she became the best-selling new artist of 2001 (as well as the best-selling female 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 "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. Keys and the album won five Grammy Awards in 2002, including Best New Artist and Song of the Year for "Fallin'". Later, on March 6, 2002, Keys would release Remixed & Unplugged in A Minor, a re-issue of Songs in A Minor, which includes eight remixes and seven unplugged versions of some songs off her debut album.
Critical reviews of the album were mostly positive. Alicia 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.
Alicia Keys followed up her debut with The Diary of Alicia Keys, released in December 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, the sixth highest album sales by a female and second by R&B female. To date, it has sold eight 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-influenced "Karma" was less successful, peaking at number twenty on Billboard Hot 100 chart but more successful on 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 Singles & Tracks chart for more than one year, surpassing Mary J. Blige's "Your Child" (forty-nine weeks). Keys went on to become the best-selling female R&B artist of 2004.
At the 2004 MTV Video Music Awards, Alicia 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". Also the following year in 2005 won Best R&B Video in her second year in a row for "Karma". At the 2005 Grammy Awards, Alicia Keys gave a performance of 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 the late Ray Charles. That evening, she won four Grammy Awards: Best R&B Album for The Diary of Alicia Keys, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for "If I Ain't Got You", Best R&B Song for "You Don't Know My Name", and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for "My Boo" with Usher.
Alicia 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-influenced "Heartburn", and performed a few choice covers. Part of Keys' audience also included her guest performers; she collaborated with rappers Common and Mos Def for "Love It or Leave It Alone", reggae artist Damian Marley for "Welcome to Jamrock" and Maroon 5 lead singer Adam Levine for a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses".
In addition to a cover of "Every Little Bit Hurts", previously performed by singers such as Aretha Franklin and Brenda Holloway, Alicia Keys also premiered two new original songs: "Stolen Moments", which she co-wrote with producer L. Green, and "Unbreakable" which peaked at number four and number thirty-four on Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop and Hot 100 respectively. It was more successful on the Billboard Adult R&B Chart peaking at number one for eleven weeks. The session was released on CD and DVD on October 11, 2005. Known simply as Unplugged, the album peaked at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart with 196,000 units sold in first week of release. So far the album has sold one million units in the United States. The debut of Keys' Unplugged was the highest debut for an MTV Unplugged album since MTV Unplugged in New York (1994) by Nirvana, and the first Unplugged by a female artist to debut at number one. It was nominated for four Grammy Awards: Best Female R&B Vocal Performance ("Unbreakable"), Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance ("If I Was Your Woman"), Best R&B Song ("Unbreakable"), and Best R&B Album. The album won three NAACP Image Awards: Outstanding Female Artist, Outstanding Song ("Unbreakable"), and Outstanding Music Video ("Unbreakable").
Alicia Keys has already began working on her third studio album, to be released in 2007. Rolling Stone magazine reported in December 2005 that Keys and her longtime songwriting partner Kerry "Krucial" Brothers will start working seriously on Keys' third studio album in the latter half of 2006. Alicia has explained that her new upcoming album has a more edgy feel than her first two albums and she is keen to do strange and unexpected collaborations outside the R&B and hip-hop worlds. Alicia plans to collaborate with John Mayer, John Legend and Linda Perry on her third studio album.
Alicia Keys recently opened a new recording studio in New York, which she co-owns with her co-production and co-songwriting partner Kerry "Krucial" Brothers. Alicia and Kerry Brothers are 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 has finished shooting a film alongside Ben Affleck, Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia, Jeremy Piven, and Ryan Reynolds entitled Smokin' Aces, in which Alicia Keys plays an assassin named Georgia Sykes. Keys has received much praise from her co-stars in the film; Ryan Reynolds said Keys has "natural" acting ability as he was surprised she had not starred in movies before. Keys will also play piano prodigy Philippa Schuyler in an upcoming movie entitled Composition in Black and White scheduled for release in 2007. Furthermore, she has finished shooting her second film The Nanny Diaries alongside Scarlett Johansson. Alicia Keys is playing Johannson's best friend in the film and theKingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, New York was used to film the college graduation scene for the film. Keys and her longtime 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 fiance Keys and Robinson, have also formed a television production company called Big Pita. Their first project will be a US-UPN Network TV series inspired by Keys' experiences as a biracial youngster growing up in New York. Keys has been tapped to executively produce an upcoming TV drama. The title and airing date are presently unconfirmed. Alicia Keys and Robinson said they will develop live-action and animated projects at their company, Big Pita, Little Pita, with Keys participating as producer and thesp and the banner spearheading soundtrack and music supervision.
Earlier in her career, tabloid rumors circulated about Alicia's s--ual orientation, speculating that Keys was bis--ual or lesbian. Alicia Keys reacted angrily, telling Access Hollywood, "I absolutely am not gay and I think what happens is any person that graces any TV set, is gay. I don't know what it is, it's like you have to be gay to be on a TV show." She even went as far as to change her look, believing that her image was contributing to the rumors. Keys explained to Yahoo! News, "The whole gay thing was like, forever! I was like, 'Please, give me a break with the gay thing!' The tabloids started that rumor early on in my career. I was much less refined at that time, I guess. Not to say that I'm totally refined now, but the way I spoke was a little different and the way that I dressed. I guess I can be very girlie. I really notice that a lot lately."
Besides being a musician, Alicia Keys is also an active philanthropist. She is a spokeswoman of the charity Keep a Child Alive. 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 (December 1). Keys and Bono's version of the song has been retiled "Don't Give Up (Africa)", to show the two musicans' support for helping to raise awareness of people living with HIV and AIDS and acknowledging the 25 million Africans (40 million people worldwide) living with the disease. Cingular Wireless announced the debut of an exclusive Music Tone ringtone available only through the Cingular Sounds music program, 100 percent of the proceeds from the ringtone sales will go to Keep a Child Alive, a non-profit organization that provides life-saving AIDS medicines directly to children and families with HIV/AIDS in Africa.
Alicia 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, will jet in on a four-day working visit on April 9, to bolster the HIV/AIDS crusade and give a ray of hope to families and children devastated by the scourge. Alicia Keys will visit sites funded by the organization "and bring 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 will follow and document the progress at both of these facilities for American news outlets.
Alicia is also a spokeswoman for Frum tha Ground Up, which is a charity devoted to inspiring, encouraging and motivating American youths to achieve success on all levels. Alicia 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.
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