Alicia J. Augello-Cook (born January 25, 1981), better known by her stage name Alicia Keys, is an American R&B;, soul, and neo soul singer-songwriter, pianist, and actress who has sold over 45 million albums worldwide as of 2007, and has won numerous awards, including eleven Grammy Awards, seventeen Billboard Music Awards, three American Music Awards, and fourteen NAACP Image Awards.
Her debut album, Songs in A Minor was a worldwide success and received the record of five Grammy Awards in a single night in 2002.
Keys was born in the Manhattan neighborhood of Harlem, in New York City, New York, to Teresa “Terri” Augello, a paralegal and part-time actress, and Craig Cook, a flight attendant. Keys’ mother is of Irish and Italian descent, and her father is Jamaican. Keys describes herself as comfortable with her biracial heritage : “I grew up in New York, and thank God, I never had to go through that in regards to, ‘You’re not black enough, you’re not white enough,’ the whole kind of white/black-mixture thing. I never had to go through that. I went through prejudices and all, surely. But I never had to battle with those two parts of me.”
Keys’ parents separated during her early childhood, and she was subsequently raised by her mother during her formative years in Hell’s Kitchen, also in Manhattan. In 1985, Keys and a group of other girls played the parts of Rudy Huxtable’s sleepover guests in an episode of The Cosby Show called “Slumber Party”. She began playing the piano when she was seven, learning classical music by composers such as Beethoven, Mozart, and her favorite, Chopin. Keys almost chose Wilde as her stage name at age sixteen until her manager suggested the name Keys after a dream he had. Keys felt that name represented her both as a performer and person.
Keys graduated from the Professional Performing Arts School, a prestigious high school in Manhattan, as valedictorian at the age of sixteen in only three years. Although accepted to Columbia University with a partial scholarship, she decided to drop out and pursue her musical career. Keys signed a demo deal with Jermaine Dupri and his So So Def label, then distributed by Columbia Records. She co-wrote and recorded a song entitled “Dah Dee Dah (Sexy Thing)”, which appeared on the soundtrack to the 1997 blockbuster, Men in Black. The song was Keys’ first professional recording; however, it was never released as a single and her record contract with Columbia Records ended quickly. Keys later met Clive Davis, who signed her to Arista Records, which has since disbanded. Following Davis to his newly-formed J Records label, she recorded the songs “Rock wit U” and “Rear View Mirror”, featured on the soundtracks to the films Shaft (2000) and Dr. Dolittle 2 (2001) respectively. Keys then released her debut album, Songs in A Minor.
The press reported in 2005 that Keys was attempting to reconcile with her father. However, Keys denied this and said her words were misinterpreted.
In a recent interview with Blender Magazine she allegedly said “‘Gangsta rap’ was a ploy to convince black people to kill each other, ‘Gangsta rap’ didn’t exist” and went on to say that it was created by “The Government.” She also said:
“Tupac and Biggie were essentially assassinated, their beefs stoked “by the government and the media, to stop another great black leader from existing.”
However, Keys wrote a statement clarifying the issues and saying her words were misinterpreted.