Alicia Augello Cook (born January 25, 1981), better known by her stage name Alicia Keys, is an American recording artist, musician and actress. She was raised by a single mother in the Hell's Kitchen area of Manhattan in New York City, New York, United States. At age seven, Keys began to play classical music on the piano. She attended Professional Performing Arts School and graduated at 16 as valedictorian. She later attended Columbia University before dropping out to pursue her music career. Keys released her debut album with J Records, having had previous record deals first with Columbia and then Arista Records.
Throughout her career, Keys has won numerous awards including 14 Grammy awards and has sold over 75 million records worldwide. Billboard magazine named her the top R&B artist of the 2000–2009 decade, establishing herself as one of the best-selling artists of her time. In 2010, VH1 included Keys on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
Keys released her first studio album, Songs in A Minor, in June 2001. It debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and sold 236,000 copies in its first week. The album sold over 6.2 million copies in the United States, where it was certified six times Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). It went on to sell over 13 million copies worldwide, establishing Keys' popularity both inside and outside the United States, where she became the best-selling new artist and best-selling R&B artist of 2001. The album's lead single, Fallin', spent six weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. The album's second single, A Woman's Worth, peaked at number three on the same chart. The following year, the album was reissued as Remixed & Unplugged in A Minor, which included eight remixes and seven unplugged versions of the songs from the original.
Songs in A Minor led Keys to win five awards at the 2002 Grammy Awards: Song of the Year, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, and Best R&B Song for Fallin', Best New Artist, and Best R&B Album; Fallin' was also nominated for Record of the Year. Keys became the second female solo artist to win five Grammy Awards in a single night, following Lauryn Hill at the 41st Grammy Awards. That same year, she collaborated with Christina Aguilera for the latter's upcoming album Stripped on a song entitled Impossible, which Keys wrote, co-produced, and provided with background vocals. During the early 2000s, Keys also made small cameos in television series Charmed and American Dreams.
Keys followed up her debut with The Diary of Alicia Keys, which was released in December 2003. The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, selling over 618,000 copies its first week of release, becoming the largest first-week sales for a female artist in 2003. It sold 4.4 million copies in the United States and was certified four times Platinum by the RIAA. It sold nine million copies worldwide, becoming the sixth biggest-selling album by a female artist and the second biggest-selling album by a female R&B artist. The singles You Don't Know My Name and If I Ain't Got You both reached the top five of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and the third single, Diary, entered the top ten. The fourth single, Karma, was less successful on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 20. If I Ain't Got You became the first single by a female artist to remain on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart for over a year.
Keys won Best R&B Video for If I Ain't Got You at the 2004 MTV Video Music Awards; she performed the song and Higher Ground with Lenny Kravitz and Stevie Wonder. Later that year, Keys released her novel Tears for Water: Songbook of Poems and Lyrics, a collection of unreleased poems from her journals and lyrics. The title derived from one of her poems, "Love and Chains" from the line: "I don't mind drinking my tears for water." She said the title is the foundation of her writing because "everything I have ever written has stemmed from my tears of joy, of pain, of sorrow, of depression, even of question". The book sold over US$500,000 and Keys made The New York Times bestseller list in 2005. The following year, she won a second consecutive award for Best R&B Video at the MTV Video Music Awards for the video Karma. Keys performed If I Ain't Got You and then joined Jamie Foxx and Quincy Jones in a rendition of Georgia on My Mind, the Hoagy Carmichael song made famous by Ray Charles in 1960 at the 2005 Grammy Awards. That evening, she won four Grammy Awards: Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for If I Ain't Got You, Best R&B Song for You Don't Know My Name, Best R&B Album for The Diary of Alicia Keys, and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals" for My Boo with Usher.
Keys performed and taped her installment of the MTV Unplugged series in July 2005 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. During this session, Keys added new arrangements to her original songs and performed a few choice covers. The session was released on CD and DVD in October 2005. Simply titled Unplugged, the album debuted at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart with 196,000 units sold in its first week of release. The album sold one million copies in the United States, where it was certified Platinum by the RIAA, and two million copies worldwide. The debut of Keys' Unplugged was the highest for an MTV Unplugged album since Nirvana's 1994 MTV Unplugged in New York and the first Unplugged by a female artist to debut at number one. The album's first single, Unbreakable, peaked at number 34 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number four on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. It remained at number one on the Billboard Hot Adult R&B Airplay for 11 weeks.
Keys opened a recording studio in Long Island, New York, called The Oven Studios, which she co-owns with her production and songwriting partner Kerry "Krucial" Brothers. The studio was designed by renowned studio architect John Storyk of WSDG, designer of Jimi Hendrix' Electric Lady Studios. Keys and Brothers are the co-founders of KrucialKeys Enterprises, a production and songwriting team who assisted Keys in creating her albums as well as create music for other artists.
In 2006, Keys won three NAACP Image Awards, including Outstanding Female Artist and Outstanding Song for Unbreakable. She also received the Starlight Award by the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In October 2006, she played the voice of Mommy Martian in the "Mission to Mars" episode of the children's television series The Backyardigans, in which she sang an original song, Almost Everything Is Boinga Here. That same year, Keys nearly suffered a mental breakdown. Her grandmother had died and her family was heavily dependent on her. She felt she needed to "escape" and went to Egypt for three weeks. She explained: "That trip was definitely the most crucial thing I've ever done for myself in my life to date. It was a very difficult time that I was dealing with, and it just came to the point where I really needed to—basically, I just needed to run away, honestly. And I needed to get as far away as possible."
Keys released her third studio album, As I Am, in November 2007; it debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, selling 742,000 copies in its first week. It gained Keys her largest first week sales of her career and became her fourth consecutive number one album, tying her with Britney Spears for the most consecutive number-one debuts on the Billboard 200 by a female artist. The week became the second largest sales week of 2007 and the largest sales week for a female solo artist since singer Norah Jones' album Feels like Home in 2004. The album has sold nearly four million copies in the United States and has been certified three times Platinum by the RIAA. It has sold nearly six million copies worldwide. Keys received five nominations for As I Am at the 2008 American Music Award and ultimately won two. The album's lead single, No One, peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, becoming Keys' third and fifth number-one single on each chart, respectively. The album's second single, Like You'll Never See Me Again, was released in late 2007 and peaked at number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number one on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. The album's third single, Teenage Love Affair, peaked at number three on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. She released the fourth single, Superwoman, which peaked at number 82 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 12 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs.
No One earned Keys the awards for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song at the 2008 Grammy Awards. Keys opened the ceremony singing Frank Sinatra's 1950s song Learnin' the Blues as a "duet" with archival footage of Sinatra in video and No One with John Mayer later in the show. Keys also won Best Female R&B Artist during the show. Keys, along with The White Stripes' guitarist and lead vocalist Jack White, recorded the theme song to Quantum of Solace, the first duet in Bond soundtrack history. In 2008, Keys was ranked in at number 80 the Billboard Hot 100 All-Time Top Artists. She also received three nominations at the 2009 Grammy Awards and won Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for Superwoman.
In an interview with Blender magazine, Keys 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". The magazine also claimed she said that Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. were "essentially assassinated, their beefs stoked by the government and the media, to stop another great black leader from existing". Keys later wrote a statement clarifying the issues and saying her words were misinterpreted. Later that year, Keys was criticized by anti-smoking campaigners after billboard posters for her forthcoming concerts in Indonesia featured a logo for the A Mild cigarette brand sponsored by tobacco firm Philip Morris. She apologized after discovering that the concert was sponsored by the firm and asked for "corrective actions". In response, the company withdrew its sponsorship.
Keys collaborated with record producer Swizz Beatz to write and produce Million Dollar Bill for Whitney Houston's seventh studio album, I Look to You. Keys had approached Clive Davis for permission to submit a song for the album. Keys also collaborated with recording artist Jay-Z on the song Empire State of Mind from his 2009 album, The Blueprint 3. The song topped the Billboard Hot 100 and became her fourth number-one single on that chart.
The following month, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers honored Keys with the Golden Note Award, an award given to artists "who have achieved extraordinary career milestones". She collaborated with Spanish recording artist Alejandro Sanz for Looking for Paradise, which topped the Hot Latin Songs chart. Keys released her fourth studio album, The Element of Freedom, in December 2009. It debuted at number two on the Billboard 200, selling 417,000 copies in its first week. As part of the promotional drive for the album, she performed at the Cayman Island Jazz Festival on December 5, the final night of the three day festival which will be broadcast on Black Entertainment Television (BET). The album's lead single, Doesn't Mean Anything, has peaked at number 60 on the Billboard Hot 100. Keys was ranked as the top R&B recording artist of the 2000–2009 decade by Billboard magazine and ranked at number five as artist of the decade, while her song, No One, was ranked at number six on the magazine's songs of the decade. In the United Kingdom, The Element of Freedom became Keys' first album to top the UK Albums Chart.
According to Songfacts, Keys said regarding the title of her fifth studio album, Girl On Fire. "Before making this record, in some ways I felt like a lion locked in a cage. I felt like a girl misunderstood that no one really knew, I felt like it was time to stop making excuses for any part of my life that I wanted to change. Once I made that choice I became a Girl on Fire, the lion broke free!!" The title track will be made available on iTunes and radio on September 4, 2012.
In May 2009, Swizz Beatz announced that he and Keys were romantically involved, and in May 2010, a representative for Keys and Swizz Beatz confirmed that they were engaged and expecting a child together. During the time of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the couple took part of a union and had the unborn child blessed in a Zulu ceremony, which took place in the Illovo suburb of South Africa. Keys and Swizz Beatz were married on the French island of Corsica on July 31, 2010. On October 14, 2010, Keys gave birth to a son, Egypt Daoud Ibarr Dean, in New York City.