Making WAVES For Black History Month: Alicia Keys

Author: Pat Prescott

Alicia Keys was born in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan, to Teresa Augello, a paralegal who was also an occasional actress, and Craig Cook, a flight attendant. Her father is African-American, and her mother, who is Caucasian, is of Italian and English/Irish/Scottish ancestry. Alicia began taking piano lessons at age seven at her mother’s insistence. She proved to be such a prodigy that she was later accepted into the prestigious Professional Performance Arts School of Manhattan, where she majored in choir. Not only her musical talent but also her grades proved to be so exceptional that she was allowed to graduate, as valedictorian, at age 16. In 1998, she signed with Arista Records, and wrote, produced and recorded her own albums. In 1999, she left Arista to join J Records, headed by legendary music impresario Clive Davis, and her success has been meteoric. Her 2001 debut album, “Songs in A Minor,” sold six million copies and garnered five Grammys. Her album “Diary” won her four more Grammys in 2005.

A lot has happened since we were first introduced to Alicia almost 15 years ago.  She is a happy wife and Mother and an advocate for being true to yourself.  Recently, she made the surprising decision to stop wearing makeup; a move which has helped many women and young girls to embrace the concept of natural beauty.

Today Alicia Keys is one of the biggest names in music and her star continues to rise.  Her critically acclaimed release “Here” is climbing the charts and later this month she rejoins “The Voice” for her second season as a coach and mentor.

Alicia has been doing a series of solo performances for small groups —  just her with her keyboards and her songs; a rare opportunity to communicate with her fans in the intimate way that is really her preference. She says she loves being up close and personal. I asked her what makes the biggest and busiest performers in the business agree to shut down their lives for a period of time to be coaches on the Voice. As you might now, Alicia joined Miley Cyrus, Blake Shelton and Adam Levine this season on the hit NBC competition show. She says it’s a unique opportunity to mentor others and that she’s sees a lot of her younger self in the artists she coaches.

We talked about her intriguing new project “Here”. The songs are all about complicated relationships, unconditional love, modern families and global unity. She hits every note in the chord the world needs to be playing right now. Alicia says she didn’t know this new album would be as timely as it is for the times we’re living in.  In the telling of her own life stories, Alicia is telling stories that we all relate to.  You can listen from the first track to the last and it all works.  It’s like a whole body of work which she likens to Carole King’s  “Tapestry” or Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”. This is a very intimate and personal project for Alicia, something that she talked about extensively.

If you’ve seen Alicia recently you already know that she’s not wearing makeup. She explained that the change is really all about going back to her authentic self in an industry that goes to great lengths to glamorize it’s subjects and create marketable images. Alicia says the no makeup movement is also an attempt to return the focus to her art and the music she has created for the new album “Here” is a reflection of that change. We spend too much time in our lives trying to meet the expectations of others.

Since she’s been spending a lot of time in LA while working on The Voice, we talked about the New York/LA connection. Alicia is a dyed in the wool New Yorker for life but she says she’s been enjoying the people she’s meeting her in Hollywood, she loves the easy availability of healthy food choices and what’s not to love about the weather! I get the feeling that wherever she is, Alicia Keys fits right in.  She’s a citizen of the planet and this planet is lucky to have her.


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