Fusing the musical influences of Nina Simone and Stevie Wonder with the training of a classical pianist, Alicia Keys redefined R&B music for a new generation through her soulful vocals and extraordinary musicianship. An exceptional singer, songwriter and pianist, Keys' albums Songs in A Minor, The Diary of Alicia Keys and As I Am sold millions of albums worldwide and won numerous awards, including Grammys and American Music Awards. She expanded her range as a performer to include occasional stints as an actor in films like the bloody action movie "Smokin' Aces" (2006) and in the heartfelt drama "The Secret Life of Bees" (2008), alongside fellow recording stars Jennifer Hudson and Queen Latifah. It seemed as if Keys' talent and opportunities knew no bounds when she collaborated with Jack Black on the theme song to the 007 film "Quantum of Solace" (2008), performed with Jay-Z on the chart-topping NYC anthem, "Empire State of Mind," and even directed a segment of the made-for-TV anthology film "Five" (Lifetime, 2011). As she entered the next decade, Keys was unequivocally recognized as one of the most successful recording artists of all time. Blessed with a rare mix of talent, ambition, intelligence and beauty, Keys continually sought out fresh artistic challenges even as she remained one of the strongest female voices in the musical genre she first embraced. These included joining the judging panel of reality singing competition series "The Voice" (NBC 2011- ) in 2016.
Born Alicia Augello Cook in Harlem, NY on Jan. 25, 1981 to her Irish-Italian mother, Terri Augello, and her Jamaican father, Craig Cook, Keys was raised in the New York City neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen. Augello and Cook separated when Keys was still very young, leaving her to be raised primarily by her actress mother who provided support for her daughter's bourgeoning musical talent. Keys began playing the piano at the age of seven, focusing on the classical compositions of Beethoven, Mozart and Chopin and later expanding her repertoire to jazz greats Oscar Peterson and Fats Waller. At the age of 14, Keys wrote her first original song, "Butterflyz" which later appeared on her debut album. Keys attended New York's Professional Performing Arts School as a choir major where she honed her vocal skills while playing piano showcases around New York at night. An exceptional student, Keys graduated early at the age of 16 and was honored as class valedictorian. She went on to attend Columbia University briefly but decided instead to focus on a music career fulltime.
Keys' professional music career began rather quickly. The young songstress signed a demo recording deal with Jermaine Dupri on his So So Def label. Keys recorded her first song, "Dah Dee Dah (Sexy Thing)," which appeared on the "Men in Black" soundtrack in 1997. Her record company failed to release the song as a single, however, and conflict arose between Keys and the label about how to market her sound. She was soon picked up by Clive Davis' Arista Records in 1998. When Davis left Arista a year later to form J Records, Keys followed and was one of the first artists signed to the new label. She recorded the songs "Rock Wit U" for the "Shaft" (2000) soundtrack, and "Rear View Mirror" for the "Dr. Dolittle 2" (2001) soundtrack. In 2001, Keys released her debut album, Songs in A Minor, which built upon her classical pianist training and fused soul with modern hip-hop influences. When the radio play for the album's first single, "Fallin," failed to gather much attention, Davis booked Keys on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" (1986-2011). Her heartfelt performance and Oprah's gushing compliments reached millions of viewers. The album debuted on the Billboard Top 200 and sold 50,000 copies in its first day. Selling more than 10 million units worldwide, A Minor went on to earn Keys five Grammy Awards in 2002, including Best New Artist and Song of the Year for the single "Fallin."
Keys' sophomore album, The Diary of Alicia Keys, hit the shelves in December 2003, debuting at number one in the U.S. Selling over 618,000 copies in its first week, Diary marked the second highest number of album sales by a female R&B artist and the sixth highest by a female artist. Keys went on to win another four Grammy Awards for the album, including Best R&B Album, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, and Best R&B Song for "You Don't Know My Name." Keys later released the acoustic performance album Unplugged in the October 2005. Shifting her talents to the big screen in 2006, Keys landed roles in two prominent Hollywood films: "Smokin Aces" (2007) with Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia and Jeremy Piven and "The Nanny Diaries" (2007) with Scarlet Johansson. Keys also landed a role portraying piano prodigy Philippa Schuyler in the film, "Composition in Black and White" (2007), then made a cameo appearance as herself on the short-lived television drama, "Cane" (CBS, 2007). Continuing her rapidly developing film career, Keyes co-starred alongside Queen Latifah, Sophie Okonedo and Dakota Fanning in "The Secret Life of Bees" (2008), playing one of three beekeeping sisters who take in a 14-year-old girl (Fanning) after she runs away from home with her caretaker and only friend (Jennifer Hudson).
In other film work, Keys recorded "Another Way to Die," the theme song for the latest in the long-running James Bond franchise, "Quantum of Solace" (2008), in a duet with White Stripes mastermind, Jack Black. The singer also paired with rapper Jay-Z in 2009 for the wildly successful single "Empire State of Mind," a sweeping orchestral ode to New York that hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and went on to win a pair of Grammys. Later that same year, another collaboration, this time with singer Alejandro Sanz entitled "Looking for Paradise," became the first Keys song to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Latin Pop Songs, Tropical Songs and Hot Latin Songs charts - a milestone that also made her the first African-American of non-Hispanic origin to do so. As a solo artist, Keys released her fourth album, The Element of Freedom in December of 2009.
In the spring of 2010, Keys and record producer Swiss Beats announced plans to marry, in addition to confirming rumors that Keys was pregnant. Not long after having the unborn child blessed in a Zulu ceremony while in South Africa for the World Cup festivities, the couple was wed on the French island of Corsica in a ceremony officiated by Deepak Chopra. In October 2010, Keys gave birth to a son, Egypt Daoud Dean, in New York City. While she enjoyed her first year of marriage and motherhood, Keys re-released Songs in A Minor in celebration of its 10th anniversary, and embarked on an intimate four-city tour to promote the album. The singer-actress made her directorial debut with a segment of the made-for-cable anthology film "Five" (Lifetime, 2011), which told various stories of women affected by breast cancer and featured other segments directed by the likes of Demi Moore, Jennifer Aniston and Penelope Spheeris. In February 2012, Keys performed a moving rendition of "Send Me an Angel" at the memorial service for her recently-departed friend and mentor, Whitney Houston. Keys released her fifth album, Girl On Fire, later the same year. While working on a follow-up LP originally announced for 2015, Keys collaborated with artists ranging from Madonna to rising R&B star The Weeknd and started writing a children's book series with 2015's Blue Moon: From the Journals of MaMa Mae and LeeLee. Keys guest starred on the record business-based soap "Empire" (Fox 2014- ) in 2015. The following year, she joined the judging panel of reality singing competition "The Voice" (NBC 2011- ) alongside fellow newcomer Miley Cyrus.
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Recorded first song "Dah Dee Dah (Sexy Thing)," which appeared on the "Men in Black" soundtrack
Signed by Clive Davis' Arista Records
Left Arista to sign with Davis' new label J Records
Recorded "Rock Wit U" for the "Shaft" (2000) soundtrack and "Rear View Mirror" for the "Dr. Dolittle 2" (2001) soundtrack
Released debut album <i>Songs in A Minor</i>; earned five Grammy Awards, including 'Song of the Year' for "Fallin"
Wrote (also produced) and sang background for Christina Aguilera's song "Impossible" from the album <i>Stripped</i>
Released sophomore album <i>The Diary of Alicia Keys</i>
Performed an installment of the "MTV Unplugged" series at the Brooklyn Academy of Music; album released as <i>Unplugged</i>
Made feature film debut alongside Jeremy Piven and Ryan Reynolds in "Smokin' Aces"
Released third studio album <i>As I Am</i>
Co-starred with Scarlett Johansson as Lynette, Johansson's character Annie's best friend in "The Nanny Diaries"
Earned three Grammy nominations, two for her album <i>As I Am</i> and one for her collaboration with Jack White
Played one of the Boatwright sisters opposite Queen Latifah and Sophie Okonedo in film adaptation of "The Secret Life of Bees"
Earned three Grammy nominations for her collaboration with Jay-Z on "Empire State of Mind"
Released fifth album <i>Girl on Fire</i> under RCA