The Life and Accomplishments of Alicia Keys
by Alanna Brown

Introduction

Rhythm and Blues, also known as R&B, is a genre of music that is very popular in the African American community. This genre has been prevalent since the 1940’s and has made many shifts since then. R&B was created with the intentions of mixing blues and jazz music that was predominately performed and created by African Americans. Throughout history there have been several different artists that have influenced this genre. One of the most well known R&B singers of the 2000’s is Alicia Keys. 

Thesis

Through her musical talents and her ability to connect with people all over the world, Alicia Keys has made a remarkable impact in the music industry.

Childhood and Education

Alicia Augello Cook was born on January 25, 1981 in New York, New York. She is the product of a white mother and a Jamaican father. Alicia’s mother was forced to raise her on her own after her father left when she was only two years old. Her mother was an actress and also was musically inclined. At the tender age of seven, Alicia’s mother made her begin to take piano lessons. After becoming such an amazing piano player she was later accepted into the Performance Arts School of Manhattan, where she focused on choir. Due to her advanced musical talents and academic excellence Alicia was able to graduate as valedictorian at age sixteen. Following her high school graduation, Alicia was accepted into Columbia University on a full scholarship. She attended Columbia University for a total of four weeks before dropping out to pursue her music career.

The Start of an Era

During the process of pursuing her music career Alicia Cook changed her name to Alicia Keys. The name stemmed from her talents associated with playing the piano. A lot of record labels were very interested in Alicia Keys because not only could she sing, but she could also write and produce her own music. To begin her professional music career Alicia Keys signed with Artista Records in 1998. With this first record company she was able to begin writing, producing, and recording her own albums. Clive Davis, a prestigious music producer was the owner of Artista Records until he decided to move to J Records. While he was the lead producer at this record company Alicia Keys decided to move to that company as well, making her the first artist to sign with this record company. Clive Davis was known for jump-starting the careers of many successful artists such as Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. Alicia Keys knew she was in great hands and after moving to J Records her music career became even more successful.

Artist Influences

While working with Clive Davis she was exposed to many other artists that influenced her. Some of her main influences were Whitney Houston, Nina Simone, Barbara Streisand, Marvin Gaye, Alice Walker, and Quincy Jones 

Music Career

Throughout her career, Alicia Keys has experienced a great amount of success musically. Her talents have really been showcased for many years. While working with J Records, her debut effort was completed. This was a major accomplishment in her career because it kind of represented the first step to being well known. Her debut effort, which was called, “Songs in A Minor”, was released in 2001, and went platinum five times. Prior to the debut of the first album, Alicia Keys was featured on television to promote the album. One of the most remembered interviews she did in preparation for the album was with Oprah Winfrey. Due to the great publicity pre-album, this first album was very much so anticipated. After the release of the first album many critics praised the album for its lyrical maturity. In the following year, Alicia Keys acquired many awards for her work. At the 2002 Grammy’s, she won Song of the Year, Best R&B Song, Best R&B Album, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, and Best New Artist. These awards officially put Alicia on the map in the music world. Not only did the attention that she was given grow immensely, but also her fan base was really picking up.

The success of Alicia Keys first album was the start of something that would not end. In 2003, she released her sophomore album, which is titled, “Diary of Alicia Keys”. This album won Alicia several more awards, specifically Grammy’s. Alicia Keys has won five Grammy’s, which ties her with Amy Winehouse and Lauryn Hill for Most Grammy’s Won by a Female Artist. “Diary of Alicia Keys”, sold more than 600,000 copies in the first week that it was released. Americas Intelligence Wire, which is a very well known review company, was very impressed with Keys’ work. They said on many accounts that her willingness to be herself and not settle would take her very far in the music industry. Shortly after the release of this review, her first single titled, “You Don’t Known My Name”, made its way to the top ten on multiple music charts. Her second single titled, “If I Ain’t Got You”, which took more of a soulful approach, was very successful as well.

Alicia Keys’ originality is what really brought her a long way. Shortly after the release of her second album, she joined The Ladies First Tour with many well-known artists, such as Beyoncé and Missy Elliot. Joining this tour with many other successful artists inspired Alicia to collaborate with more artists in her music. One of the most well known collaborations that she did in her entire career was with Usher Raymond for the song titled, “My Boo”. This song also added another Grammy to her collection. A lot of people were under the assumption that after her sophomore album, she would not be able to produce records that were fair as well as some of her first records. Alicia Keys proved these critics wrong with the release of an album in 2007 called, “As I Am”. With this album she sold 740,000 copies in the first week, which was the most copies she had sold in the first week in her entire career. This album also awarded her two more Grammy’s. In the next year she would collaborate with even more artists. She recorded “Another Way To Die” with Jack White, which was used as the theme song for the James Bond film, Quantum of the Solace. Her duet on this track made her part of the first ever duet performed for a James Bond movie. In 2009, Alicia Keys recorded Empire State of Mind with award winning artist Jay-Z.

To this day, Alicia Keys’ music career has not slowed down one bit. Her fourth studio album was released in 2009. This album titled, “ The Element of Freedom”, did not do as well as her previous albums. Although this album did not do as well, it was still successful. The album had a single that debuted at number two on the music charts, while also reaching sixty on the Billboard Hot 100. Not only was Alicia Keys’ music successful in the United States, but also several other countries. One of her biggest accomplishments with this album was that it reached number one in the United Kingdom. The latest album released in 2012, titled, “Girl on Fire”, put Keys at the top of the billboards once again. She also won Best R&B Album at the Grammy’s in 2014.

Acting Career

Outside of music, Alicia Keys has had some experience in the film industry. Growing up with a mother who was an aspiring actress, she was exposed to that career path. In 1985, she made a guest appearance on the Cosby Show at just four years old. This appearance was even before she was practicing music. She was also seen on several other shows many years later. She was featured in Charmed, The Backyardigans, American Dreams, The Secret Life of Bees, The Nanny Diaries and in 2006 made her debut in a movie called Smokin’ Aces. She won an award at the NAACP image awards for her role in The Secret Life of Bees. One of her most recent jobs included her becoming a judge the TV show, The Voice. Her job on the voice made her not only one of the first female judges, but the first female African American judge to be apart of the show.

Contributions to Literature

One of the main reasons why Alicia Keys is so well liked among many different crowds is due to the fact that she has made so many contributions to society outside of her music. Due to her ability to write her own music, Alicia Keys wrote a songbook of poems and lyrics. This would be the first book that she ever wrote and had published so of course there would be some heavy critiquing that came along with it being produced. In addition to the release of the book she was involved with many charities. Two of the first charities she contributed to were From Tha Ground Up and Keep A Child Alive. The purpose of these two charities was to assist children that had AIDS. In several interviews, she explained that all of her conscious efforts to help the community and the world were very personal for her and not just because she knew it would make people like her even more than they already did.

Her Passion for Empowering Women

Currently, Alicia Keys has taken a different approach to her career. Recently she has been involved in a “natural girl” movement. Even in the very beginning of her career Alicia Keys refused to change based on what the record companies wanted her to change to. She has always been the type to stay true to herself and not let others determine what defines her. In several interviews Keys has talked about the promotion of this new movement to not wear any make-up and embrace natural hair and natural beauty. She really emphasizes self-care and appreciation.

In an interview with the Today Show she talked about how when she was coming up in the music industry many people tried to influence her and change her image to one that she was not comfortable. She was named one of the most influential people in Time Magazines, “The 100 Most Influential People”. She lives by the motto, “Do what’s good for you”. She really emphasizes how until you, “do what’s good for you”, you will never truly be comfortable with yourself and even happy with yourself. The all-natural movement that Alicia Keys has started has really played a key role in the influence of black girls and women. Society looks down upon natural hair and wearing no make-up so for an artist like Alicia Keys, who has such a large platform, to promote this movement, is very encouraging. Although she has really influenced black women and girls, she has really made an impact on all women and girls of all races. Women in general do not always feel as if they have a safe space to express themselves and just be themselves. After a lot of the interviews and promotion videos that Alicia Keys have come out with a lot of companies have started to accept the natural idea for their commercials and other types of promotions. Her significance is represented by her constant positive and uplifting attitude.

Personal Life

Although Alicia Keys is very serious about her career, she has made time for a personal life. In July 2010, she married rapper Swizz Beatz. There was a lot of controversy with this marriage because Swizz Beatz left his wife to be with Alicia Keys. Through all the controversy they were still able to keep their marriage strong. Later on that year, the couple welcomed their first child named, Egypt Daoud Dean. In 2014, they welcomed their second son named, Genesis Ali Dean. Her son Egypt, who is now 7 years old, is considered a musical prodigy. He is responsible for co-producing several tracks on Kendrick Lamar’s album Untitled Unmastered. She and her husband have also done a lot of work together musically. Through all her pregnancies and even marriage she was still able to go on tour and perform all over the world.

Conclusion

When thinking about all the contributions that Alicia Cook, now known as, Alicia Keys, has made to not only the music industry, but also society as a whole it is amazing to see. There are not very many artists that have accomplished as much as she has in such a short period of time. She is an influence to many and will be for several years. Alicia Keys has made an impact that will forever be remembered and appreciated.

Bibliography

“Alicia Keys.” Biography.com. May 22, 2017. Accessed October 01, 2017. https://www.biography.com/people/alicia-keys-9542485.

Serpick, Evan, ed. “Alicia Keys Bio.” Rolling Stone. Accessed October 1, 2017. http://www.rollingstone.com/music/artists/alicia-keys/biography.

“Alicia Keys Biography.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. Accessed October 01, 2017. http://www.notablebiographies.com/newsmakers2/2006-Ei-La/Keys-Alicia.html.

Bbcnews. YouTube. December 04, 2016. Accessed October 01, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04omyqMvT2A.

TODAYNBC. YouTube. September 02, 2016. Accessed October 01, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmbFPPiK6D8.

Bogdan, Ana. “Alicia Keys.” The Talks. September 20, 2017. Accessed October 01, 2017. http://the-talks.com/interview/alicia-keys/.

Lanski, Sam. “Alicia Keys: New Album, The Voice, No Makeup.” Time. Accessed October 1, 2017. http://time.com/4475023/alicia-keys-new-music-interview/.

Iasimone, Ashley. “Alicia Keys Defends DACA: Dreamers Should ‘Live Without Walls, Borders, Bans or Repeals’.” Billboard. Accessed October 01, 2017. http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/politics/7957680/alicia-keys-trump-daca-repeal-dreamers-support.

Leahey, Andrew. “Alicia Keys | Biography & History.” AllMusic. Accessed October 01, 2017. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/alicia-keys-mn0000005307/biography.

“Keys, Alicia.” Contemporary Black Biography. Accessed October 01, 2017. http://www.encyclopedia.com/people/literature-and-arts/music-popular-and-jazz-biographies/alicia-keys.

Discography

2001
2003
2005
2007
2009
2012
2010
2013
2016
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Copyright 2017. Alanna Brown.