Award-winning Artist and Composer
Alicia has received numerous awards for her songs and albums, and almost all of her hit songs have stayed on top of the billboard charts for multiple consecutive weeks. Alicia has sold over 35 million albums and 30 million singles worldwide, placing her among the richest and most successful artists.
She has won multiple Grammy Awards, MTV Video Music Awards, Billboard Music Awards, and People’s Choice Awards for her contributions to the music industry. Her style of music reaches out to people of different age groups, inspiring and encouraging them to be themselves in any situation.
Alicia also had guest appearances in many television shows and movies over the course of her career, most notably the television series “Charmed” and “X Factor,” as well as the movies “Smokin’ Aces” and “The Nanny Diaries.” She has been featured in many commercials, having numerous sponsors in her career.
But aside from her career as a superstar singer, Alicia is also an active philanthropist, helping children and their families in combatting HIV and AIDS through the charitable organization “Keep a Child Alive,” which she co-founded and serves as a Global Ambassador for. She has also participated in numerous benefit concerts for various relief efforts around the world, and has been featured in the famous Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof.
She was born Alicia Augello Cook in the Hell’s Kitchen district of Manhattan in 1981, the daughter of Craig Cook and Teresa Augello. Craig Cook was of African–American descent, and worked as a flight attendant for a well-known airline, while Teresa Augello, who had Italian, Scottish and Irish blood, worked as a paralegal and an actress.
In an interview made with Alicia, she described how she was not bothered by having a biracial heritage, because through it she was able to feel close and relate to people of different cultures. When Alicia was only two years old, her parents separated, leaving Alicia to the care of her mom.
In spite of not having a father figure while growing up, Alicia was loved dearly by Teresa, who devoted much of her time and effort into giving Alicia everything that she could give her. Alicia took an early liking to the show business due to her mother’s influence as an actress.
Early Musical Talent
In 1985, while Alicia was only around four years old, she was privileged to make an appearance in the famous television program “The Cosby Show,” alongside a group of girls who played members of Rudy Huxtable’s sleepover guests in an episode of the show titled “Slumber Party.” Her experience in the show developed a desire in her for acting and singing.
Teresa did not fail to notice this passion in her child. As early as three years old she helped Alicia to develop her acting and singing skills by having her attend music and dance lessons. When Alicia was seven years old, Teresa had her learn how to play the piano, which Alicia soon grew fond of.
Through the tutelage of her mother and her proctor, coupled with her passion for music, Alicia quickly mastered the basics and soon started to play classical pieces which were composed by great men of music, such as Beethoven, Mozart, and Chopin, which greatly impressed her musical instructor.
One of the challenges Alicia had to face during her childhood was the air of discrimination that was prevalent in the place where she grew up. Aside from being discriminated for her racial heritage, Alicia also had no father, which was not really unusual during that time in her neighborhood but it nevertheless became a subject of scrutiny.
There were some times when Alicia would get so affected by the critical statements against her that she was tempted to answer and fight back, but her mother would always be there to comfort her and remind her that she did not need to fight back, as there was nothing in what her critics were saying that needed defending because they were not true.
Alicia would always recall how her mother not only inspired her as a child to keep achieving her dreams, but her mother also taught Alicia such compassion and love that would build her later on as she went to face the greater challenges of life.
A Composer at 14
At a very young age, Alicia showed an amazing talent and skill for music and singing, so by the age of 12 Teresa enrolled her in the Professional Performing Arts School, where she majored in choir. Alicia was so gifted in music that by the age of 14, she was already writing her own songs, which impressed both her classmates and teachers.
Alicia was not only recognized for her amazing voice but also for her skill of creating songs with witty lyrics and deep meanings. In her younger years, Alicia was a fan of Michael Jackson and aspired to also become a songwriter like him. At the age of 16, in 1997, Alicia graduated from the PPAS as a valedictorian.
The Journey to becoming a Recording Artist
In 1994, three years prior to her graduation, Alicia had the opportunity to meet Jeff Robinson, a well-known talent manager after she enrolled in his brother’s after-school program. Robinson was impressed with Alicia’s talent and potential that he introduced her to Peter Edge at Arista Records.
Edge, who would later on become Alicia’s A&R at the recording company, was surprised and awed by Alicia’s level of musicianship, and told Robinson that he had never seen anyone of her age that could exhibit the kind of musical skill that Alicia did. He later stated:
“I had never met a young R&B artist with that level of musicianship. So many people were just singing on top of loops and tracks, but she had the ability, not only to be part of hip-hop, but also to go way beyond that.”
Edge’s first impression of Alicia keys went so great that he devoted and focused his time on helping her establish a name in the musical industry by assisting Alicia in developing her demo material. Initially, Edge wanted to sign Alicia as a recording artist, but due to the complicated issues revolving around his leaving of his present record company he was unable to do so. He did, eventually, help Alicia land a contract with Columbia Records and what’s even better was, through Edge’s help, Alicia was also accepted into Columbia University.
Alicia was initially hesitant in attending university due to the pressures she was facing with her contract with Columbia Records. She was juggling her career and her school. She always kept in mind that having a good educational background was essential in being successful, but as she tried to manage both for a month she realized that if she was to focus on one of them, she had to leave the other. Alicia decided to leave her collegiate studies to pursue her career in music on a full-time basis.
Alicia then went on to sign a demo deal with Jermaine Dupri, a well-known record producer and artist; as well as with So So Def Recordings, where Alicia appeared on the recording label’s Christmas album and performed the song “The Little Drummer Girl.”
Alicia’s time with Columbia Records started and ended with her co-writing and recording the song “Dah Dee Dah (Sexy Thing),” which was included on the soundtrack of the famous 1997 movie titled “Men in Black.” Although this marked Alicia’s first professional recording, it was never released as a single and due to a dispute with the recording label (Alicia’s career stalled for two years due to indecisive actions made by the company’s executives regarding her direction as an artist and due to major changes within Columbia Records), she ended her recording contract with the company.
Becoming Alicia “Keys”
Needing a new recording label, Alicia contacted Clive Davis, a well-known record producer, who after seeing her performance signed her into a contract with Arista Records. Davis later described Alicia as someone who was both “special” and “unique”—like no other artist that he has ever met before. Davis encouraged Alicia to pick a new stage name, and while Alicia was thinking of using “Wilde” as her last name, Davis told her to change it to “Keys” after a dream that he had. In choosing the name Alicia Keys, Alicia felt that her name represented her in being an artist as well as a person.
Eventually, Arista Records was disbanded and Alicia’s contract was supposed to have been ended; however, Davis invited Alicia to join him in his newly formed J Records label, an offer that Alicia readily accepted. One of her first works at the recording label company was a collaboration with Kerry “Krucial” Brothers, which resulted in the recording of the songs “Rock wit U” (which was featured on the soundtrack of the film “Shaft”) and “Rear View Mirror” (featured on the movie “Dr. Dolittle 2”).
In 2001, Alicia finally got her big break after her first studio album, which was titled “Songs in A Minor,” was released in June. This album, which was a mix of classical piano, R&B, soul, and jazz, was critically acclaimed by numerous music critics: this included Jane Stevenson, who described Alicia’s music as “old-school urban sounds and attitude set against a backdrop of classical piano and sweet, warm vocals” and Steve Jones, a writer from USA Today, who wrote that Alicia’s music “taps into the blues, soul, jazz and even classical music to propel haunting melodies and hard-driving funk.”
The album also became a financial success, garnering over 200,000 units in sales and debuting at the top of the Billboard 200. It then sold over 12 million copies worldwide, and was certified six times Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. “Songs in A Minor” established Alicia as a worldwide phenomenon and made her the bestselling new artist of that year.
Several singles in the album were also highly acclaimed by both music fans and critics. Alicia’s debut single titled “Fallin,” was released two months before the album and stayed on the top position of the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Other singles such as “A Woman’s Worth,” “How Come You Don’t Call Me?” and “Girlfriend” also landed high ranks on the chart.
The following year, Alicia’s album “Songs in A Minor” and her single “Fallin” won several Grammy Awards, and Alicia herself was named as the Best New Artist. That same year, Alicia collaborated with Christina Aguilera in creating her album entitled “Stripped”—Alicia wrote one of the songs in the album, titled “Impossible.” Aside from her success in the music industry, Alicia also started making cameo appearances in television shows such as “Charmed” and “American Dreams.”
In late 2003, Alicia released her second album titled “The Diary of Alicia Keys.” On its debut, the album immediately took the number one spot on the Billboard 200, and sold so much that it became the largest first-week sales for a female artist in that year. It received platinum certification four times, and sold over eight million copies worldwide. “The Diary of Alicia Keys” produced singles such as “You Don’t Know My Name,” “If I Ain’t Got You,” and “Diary,” all of which took top spots in the Billboard Hot 100 for a record number of weeks. In fact, the song “If I Ain’t Got You” became the very first song from a female artist to remain on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs for more than one year. The song received so much fame and critical acclaim that it won the MTV Video Music Award for the Best R&B Video.
Founding Keep a Child Alive
In that same year, Alicia co-founded the charitable organization “Keep a Child Alive” with Leigh Blake and Peter Edge. The foundation’s aim is to help prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS through providing affected families with medicine and care. Alicia personally promoted the foundation, and from that time on it grew to becoming one of the largest HIV/AIDS treatment organizations today.
In early 2004, Alicia collaborated with Usher, another widely-famous recording artist for his album “Confessions,” in which they did the song “My Boo” together. “My Boo” stayed number one on the Hot 100 list for six weeks, making it Alicia’s second number-one single. During the MTV Video Music Awards, Alicia had the privilege of performing with music leaders such as Lenny Kravitz and Stevie Wonder when the trio performed the song “Higher Ground.”
Later that year, Alicia released her first public novel entitled “Tears for Water: Songbook of Poems and Lyrics.” The book, which was a collection of poems from Alicia’s journal and lyrics, became a bestseller, making it to the New York Times bestseller list and selling over 500,000 dollars.
The following year, in 2005, Alicia received her second MTV Video Music Award for Best R&B Video (for her song “Karma”). During the Grammy Awards, Alicia performed her own song live on stage, then joined the ranks of Jamie Foxx and Quincy Jones in singing “Georgia on My Mind.” That same night, she won four Grammy Awards. In mid-2005, Alicia went to the Brooklyn Academy of Music to film her performance on her installment of the MTV Unplugged series.
Making some new arrangements and choice covers, she released this a few months later as the album “Unplugged,” which immediately became a part of the Billboard 200 chart. Although it produced several singles which also landed spots on the Billboard 100, it failed to reach the kind of success that Alicia already experienced with her previous albums. That same year, Alicia worked with the Kerry “Krucial” Brothers and co-opened “The Oven Studios,” a recording studio in New York.
Alicia also collaborated with Bono, the lead singer of the band U2, to record a cover version of “Don’t Give Up” by Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, in recognition of World AIDS Day that year. In the next three years, she visited several African countries, such as Kenya, Uganda, and South Africa, promoting the importance of children’s welfare, especially those who are affected by AIDS.
In 2006, Alicia received three NAACP Image Awards and the Starlight Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame. She also had the opportunity to play the voice of “Mommy Martian” in the television series “The Backyadigans” episode titled “Mission to Mars.” In this episode, Alicia also performed an original song titled “Almost Everything Is Boinga Here.”
Amidst her successes in 2006, Alicia encountered a personal tragedy that affected her greatly, to the point that she nearly suffered a mental breakdown. Her grandmother passed away and her family became heavily dependent on Alicia for support. This caused a lot of depression on Alicia, who was trying to juggle her career and the family at the same time. Nearly losing control, Alicia decided to take a vacation and stayed in Egypt for three weeks, stating:
“That trip was definitely the most crucial thing I've ever done for myself in my life to date. It was a very difficult time that I was dealing with, and it just came to the point where I really needed to—basically, I just needed to run away, honestly. And I needed to get as far away as possible.”
Starting an Acting Career
Fortunately, her trip to Egypt became a breather and Alicia was able to recollect her thoughts and come back a stronger woman to the United States.
Alicia saw more successes as she entered the year 2007. She finally made her film debut with the movie “Smokin’ Aces,” in which she played an assassin opposite the roles of Ben Affleck and Andy Garcia. She also starred in the movie “The Nanny Diaries,” which was led by cast Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson. Although both her movies did moderately at the box office, Alicia was praised by many of her co-stars, especially in the film “Smokin’ Aces.” Ryan Reynolds commented that Alicia’s performance was “so natural” and that she “blew everybody away.”
That same year, she also saw numerous successes on the release of her third studio album titled “As I Am.” Not only did it debut at the top spot of the Billboard 200 chart, but it also made Alicia her biggest first-week sales, selling over 742,000 copies in its first week. This tied Alicia with Britney Spears in having the most consecutive number of top debuts in the Billboard 200 chart by a female artist. The album sold over five million copies internationally and received three platinum certifications from the RIAA. It also went on to win in two categories of the next year’s American Music Awards. “As I Am” produced hit singles that took the Hot 100 charts by storm. Singles such as “No One,” “You’ll Never See Me Again,” “Teenage Love Affair,” and “Superwoman” all landed high ranks in the Billboard Hot 100 charts.
Her song “No One” won in two categories at the 2008 Grammy Awards: Best Female R&B Performance and Best R&B Song. During the Grammy Awards, Alicia performed a ‘duet’ with an archive footage of Frank Sinatra in his song “Learnin’ the Blues.”
Joining “Hope for Haiti Now: A Global Benefit for Earthquake Relief”
Alicia also participated in that year’s Nobel Peace Prize concert along with many other famous artists, and recorded a theme song for Barack Obama, who was at that time the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. She also made two songs in her album “As I Am” that were specifically dedicated to the project “Hope for Haiti Now: A Global Benefit for Earthquake Relief.”
In 2008, Alicia made more frequent appearances in television commercials and shows. In the movie “The Secret Life of Bees,” Alicia co-starred with very famous actors, such as Paul Bettany, Queen Latifah, Dakota Fanning, and Jennifer Hudson. It was also in this year that Alicia was ranked 80th in the Billboard Hot 100’s All-Time Top Artists list, which really gave her a lot of honor for becoming one of the world’s best artists. She also won the Best Female R&B Vocal Performance Category at the Grammy Awards for her song “Superwoman.”
In 2009, Alicia, with permission from Clive Davis, wrote a song and submitted it to Whitney Houston for her album “I Look to You.” She also co-wrote the single “Million Dollar Bill” with Swizz Beatz at the same time. Later that year, Alicia collaborated with famous rapper Jay-Z to perform the song single “Empire State of Mind” for his album “The Blueprint 3.” The song became a critical and financial success, landing the top spot on the Hot 100 chart for several weeks.
Alicia also collaborated with Alejandro Sanz in his single “Looking for Paradise,” which became her very first single to land number one on the Hot Latin Tracks charts. That same year, she released her fourth album titled “The Element of Freedom,” which debuted at the second place on the Billboard 200 chart. The album also became a huge success, and produced singles, such as “Doesn’t Mean Anything,” “Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart,” and “Put It in a Love Song,” which equally received success. For her outstanding performance in the music industry, Alicia became the top R&B recording artist of the decade, as ranked by Billboard magazine.
Getting Married and becoming a Mom
Alicia and Swizz Beatz were already speculated to have engaged in a romantic relationship in 2009, but it was not until 2010 that it was confirmed that apart from the two being engaged, they were also expecting a child. They had the child blessed in a Zulu ceremony during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, in which they also had their union.
Their wedding was celebrated in Corsica in mid-2010. She then gave birth to a son by October, and named him Egypt Daoud Ibarr Dean. She had the song “Speechless” (performed with Eve) recorded dedicated to her son, Egypt.
In 2011, Alicia went on a tour to support the release of the deluxe version of the album “Songs in A Minor,” in commemoration of the album’s tenth year. She also had her debut as a director in the movie “Five,” which features the story of five women who became victims of breast cancer and how the ordeal changed their lives.
In 2012, Alicia released her fifth studio album entitled “Girl on Fire,” in which she stated her hopes that the album would ‘liberate’ and ‘empower’ her fans. The lead single, “Girl on Fire” was performed by Alicia in that year’s MTV Video Music Awards. Other singles that were released from the album were “Brand New Me,” “New Day,” and “Not Even the King.”
That same year, Alicia was featured in the campaign titled “30 Songs/30 Days” in support of the Half the Sky project, which was created by Nicholas Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn. She also performed alongside numerous native New Yorkers in the “Concert for Sandy Relief,” which would benefit the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
Recently, Alicia has been named the Global Creative Director of BlackBerry by the company’s CEO Thorsten Heins. It was a response to Alicia’s help in unveiling the BlackBerry 10 mobile platform in January 2013, and for her dedication to help sell BlackBerry devices.
Alicia’s style of music heavily incorporates piano into many of her songs; her themes of love, heartbreak and female empowerment are the reasons why so many fall in love with her music. Her songs are easily able to connect to the listener due to the strong emphasis of standing up after a tough moment, which is the central theme of many of the youths today. Alicia writes most of her songs from her experiences and by observing the experiences of her generation. Her songs’ lyrical beauty and upbeat tempo draw many fans into listening them.
Discography and Concert Tours
- 2001: Songs in A Minor
- 2001-2002: Songs in A Minor Tour
- 2003: The Diary of Alicia Keys
- 2004: Verizon Ladies First Tour
- 2005: Diary Tour
- 2005: Unplugged
- 2007: As I Am
- 2008: As I Am Tour
- 2009: The Element of Freedom
- 2010: Freedom Tour
- 2011: Piano & I: An Intimate Evening with Alicia Keys and Her Piano
- 2012: Girl on Fire
- 2013: Set The World On Fire Tour
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Keep a Child Alive
- The Journals of Mama Mae & Lee
- Sahara Aalhad Care Home
- Living India Home of Hope
- Blue Roof Wellness Centre
- Bobbi Bear
- Ikageng Itireleng
- Alive Medical Services
- Centreville Clinic
- Family Care Clinic
- Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
- Hope for Haiti Now: A Global Benefit for Earthquake Relief
- ReAct Now: Music & Relief
- Shelter from the Storm: A Concert for the Gulf Coast
Awards and Achievements
- 2001: Received the Billboard Music Award for Female Artist of the Year
- 2001: Received the Billboard Music Award for Female New Artist of the Year
- 2001: Received the Billboard Music Award for New R&B/Hip-Hop Artist of the Year
- 2001: Received the MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist in a Video
- 2002: Received the American Music Award for Favorite New Artist, Pop/Rock
- 2002: Received the American Music Award for Favorite New Artist, Soul/R&B
- 2002: Received the BET Award for Best New Artist
- 2002: Received the ECHO Award for Best International Newcomer
- 2002: Received the Grammy Award for Best New Artist
- 2002: Received the Grammy Award for Song of the Year (Fallin)
- 2002: Received the Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance (Fallin)
- 2002: Received the Grammy Award for Best R&B Song (Fallin)
- 2002: Received the Grammy Award for Best R&B Album (Songs in A Minor)
- 2002: Received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding New Artist
- 2002: Received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Album (Songs in A Minor)
- 2002: Received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Song (A Woman’s Worth)
- 2002: Received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Female Artist
- 2004: Received the American Music Award for Favorite Female Soul/R&B Artist
- 2004: Received the Billboard Music Award for Female Artist of the Year
- 2004: Received the Billboard Music Award for Hot 100 Songwriter of the Year
- 2004: Received the Billboard Music Award for Female Hot 100 Artist of the Year
- 2004: Received the Billboard Music Award for R&B/Hip-Hop Single of the Year (If I Ain’t Got You)
- 2004: Received the Billboard Music Award for R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay Single of the Year (If I Ain’t Got You)
- 2004: Received the Billboard Music Award for R&B/Hip-Hop Artist of the Year
- 2004: Received the Billboard Music Award for R&B/Hip-Hop Singles Artist of the Year
- 2004: Received the MTV Video Music Awards for Best R&B Video (If I Ain’t Got You)
- 2005: Received the ASCAP Pop Music Award for Most Performed Song (If I Ain’t Got You)
- 2005: Received the ASCAP Pop Music Award for Most Performed Song (You Don’t Know My Name)
- 2005: Received the ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Award for Songwriter of the Year
- 2005: Received the ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Award for Top R&B/Hip-Hop Song of the Year (If I Ain’t Got You)
- 2005: Received the BET Award for Best R&B Female Artist
- 2005: Received the Grammy Award for Best R&B Album (The Diary of Alicia Keys)
- 2005: Received the Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance (If I Ain’t Got You)
- 2005: Received the Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals (My Boo)
- 2005: Received the Grammy Award for Best R&B Song (You Don’t Know My Name)
- 2005: Received the MTV Video Music Awards for Best R&B Video (Karma)
- 2005: Received the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Female Singer
- 2005: Received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Music Video (If I Ain’t Got You)
- 2005: Received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Song (If I Ain’t Got You)
- 2006: Received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Female Artist
- 2006: Received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Song (Unbreakable)
- 2006: Received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Music Video (Unbreakable)
- 2008: Received the American Music Award for Best Album, Pop/Rock (As I Am)
- 2008: Received the American Music Award for Best Album, Soul/R&B (As I Am)
- 2008: Received the BET Award for Best R&B Female Artist
- 2008: Received the Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance (No One)
- 2008: Received the Grammy Award for Best R&B Song (No One)
- 2008: Received the Satellite Award for Best Original Song (Another Way to Die)
- 2008: Received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Female Artist
- 2008: Received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Music Video (Like You’ll Never See Me Again)
- 2008: Received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Song (Like You’ll Never See Me Again)
- 2008: Received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Album (As I Am)
- 2009: Received the ASCAP Pop Music Award for Most Performed Song (No One)
- 2009: Received the Golden Note Award
- 2009: Received the ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Award for Top R&B/Hip-Hop Song of the Year (Like You’ll Never See Me Again)
- 2009: Received the ASCAP R&B/Hip-Hop Award (No One and Teenage Love Affair)
- 2009: Received the BET Humanitarian Award
- 2009: Received the Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance (Superwoman)
- 2009: Received the People’s Choice Award for Favorite R&B Song (No One)
- 2010: Received the BET Award for Best R&B Female Artist
- 2010: Received the BET Award for Best Collaboration (Empire State of Mind)
- 2010: Received the MTV Video Music Award for Best Cinematography in a Video (Empire State of Mind)
- 2010: Included in the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time by VH1
- 2011: Received the Grammy Award for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (Empire State of Mind)
- 2011: Received the Grammy Award for Best Rap Song (Empire State of Mind)
- 2011: Received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Music Video (Un-thinkable)
- 2013: Received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Female Artist
- 2013: Received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Music Video (Girl On Fire)