Alicia Augello-Cook, aka Alicia Keys, came into the spotlight in 2001 with the soul stirring ballad, “Fallin.” When the public heard the track, a collective “Is this a remake?” was asked. While the self-produced track did sample James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World,” it was not a remake. Alicia Keys has proved, if anything, she is an original.
Born in the Hell’s Kitchen section of New York City on January 25th, 1981, Alicia had dreams of fame as a small child. Keys appeared on The Cosby Show when she was four, as a friend of Rudy’s. You can catch Mr. Cosby bouncing the half Black and Irish beauty on his knee. Though the experience of acting was fun for Keys, she began taking classical and jazz piano lessons from Margaret Pine a few years later. Through honing her piano skills she discovered she could sing as well.
By the mid-nineties, Alicia had majored in Choir at The Professional Performance Arts School in Manhattan. Her interest in songwriting and producing was piqued as she studied under a bold pianist, composer, and songwriter, Miss Aziza. While the world still had a ways to go before being formally introduced to the artist, Jeff Robinson, her manager, met her at an after school program. Robinson had her performing in clubs she wasn’t old enough to party in. Keys would also perform on street corners and various venues throughout the tri-state area. After one of those performances in 1996, Jeff Robinson introduced her to future A&R rep, Peter Edge.
Alicia Keys Class of 2001
After graduating as valedictorian of her class at 16, Alicia Keys signed her first record deal with Columbia Records. Through Columbia Records, she entered a demo deal with Jermaine Dupri. She recorded “The Little Drummer Girl” for So So Def’s Christmas album. Alicia, then wrote and sang a song on the Men In Black soundtrack called, “Dah Dee Dah (Sexy Thing).” Once ’99 was rang in, Alicia Keys was signed to J Records. A year later, she had contributed songs to soundtracks such as Shaft and Dr. Doolittle 2. Even though she had features on those soundtracks, nothing could ready her for the rocket her debut album, Songs In A Minor, would become.
On the strength of “Fallin,” Keys tied the record set by Lauryn Hill by winning five Grammys, taking home trophies in all the R&B categories and Best New Artist. During this time, Keys co-founded Keep A Child Alive, which is a charity that provides health services to HIV/AIDS victims in Africa. While promoting her charity, she released the number one sophomore album, Diary of Alicia Keys. The success seemed to have gravitated towards Alicia because she won awards upon awards for the disc, including four more Grammys.
MTV approached the superstar to appear on the next installment of their series, Unplugged. Like many of its predecessors, it was released as an album. Keys had another number one album, only this time she didn’t win any Grammys for it. That made the first time she was nominated and went home empty handed. Deciding to switch gears, Keys began taking small roles in films. Her big screen debut was in the action flick, Smokin’ Aces. Following the action film, she tried her hand at comedy in The Nanny Diaries.
Though she received warm reviews in film, music was her first love. Between 2005 and 2007 Keys was back in the studio creating her most popular album to date, 2007’s As I Am. Critics raved that it was a perfect blending of her soulful roots and pop future. Again, Alicia won tons of awards for the next few years. By 2009, the singer was secretly falling in love with producer, Swizz Beatz. Though they were denying their rumored romance, Swizz’ ex-wife, Mashonda, went on a campaign telling her side of their break up. She claimed Keys stole the producer from her, knowing he was still married. In a recent interview with Essence Magazine, Keys maintained she did not get involved with Swizz Beatz until after he left his wife. Her music told another story. The hit single, “Unthinkable,” was a story about forbidden love.
Though the video tried to persuade the public into thinking it was about interracial dating, many speculated it had something to do with her relationship with the super producer. During the promotion of The Element of Freedom, Keys and Beatz married on the Mediterranean Sea in 2010. That milestone was only eclipsed by the birth of her first child, Egypt Daoud Ibarr Dean.
While the controversy may have cost her a few fans (The Element of Freedom was her first non-number 1 album) it is still certified platinum and you can’t deny the immense talent Alicia Keys possesses. What ultimately matters is that she can really sing and tugs at our heartstrings with her songwriting. The first ten years of her career have been enviable by anyone’s standards and music fans have forgiven a lot more–if the right song comes on the radio.