Alicia Keys is a rhythm and blues singer, songwriter, and pianist known for her unique blend of classical, R&B, jazz, neo-soul, and hip-hop. She writes, produces, and sings her own songs. Her stage name “Keys” alludes to her being a pianist.
Keys was born Alicia Augello Cook on January 25, 1981 in Manhattan, New York to Terria Joseph (Teresa Augello) and Craig Cook. She was raised by her mother, a paralegal and part time actress, whose father Joseph Augello acted in The Green Hornet and Lone Ranger series and was a radio DJ. Keys began piano lessons at age seven and had begun songwriting by 11. She later attended Manhattan’s Professional Performing Arts School where she graduated at 16 as the valedictorian. Keys spent four weeks enrolled at Columbia University on a full scholarship before leaving to pursue music.
In 1997 Keys’s song “Dah Dee Dah (Sexy Thing),” was in the Men in Black soundtrack and the following year she signed with Arista Records while still in high school. Keys followed Clive Davis, the former head of Arista, when he created the J Records label in 1999. Two years later Keys released her debut album Songs in A Minor which won her five Grammy Awards and went sextuple platinum in the U.S. and platinum in nine other countries. In 2003 Keys released her 2nd album, The Diary of Alicia Keys, winning her four Grammys and debuting at number one on the charts.
Keys released her book Tears for Water: Songbook of Poems and Lyrics in 2004, and her 2005 MTV Unplugged album debuted at number one. Her 2007 album As I Am also debuted at number one and earned her two Grammys.
In 2008 Keys recorded the James Bond Quantum of Solace theme song “Another Way to Die” with Jack White, and in 2009 she recorded “Empire State of Mind” with Jay-Z. She released The Element of Freedom in 2009 which reached number two on U.S. charts and went platinum and reached number one on U.K. charts. Girl on Fire, her 2012 album, debuted at number one, went gold, and earned her another Grammy. In 2013 she released her second live album, VH1 Storytellers, and 2016 she released Here, which peaked at number two. In 2017 Keys released Vault Playlist, Vol. 1, which included new versions of earlier songs and unreleased material.
Keys has also had multiple acting roles, her first as Keshia Knight Pulliam’s four-year-old friend on The Cosby Show. Keys has since appeared in the series Charmed (1998-2006), The Backyardigans (2004-2010), American Dreams (2002-2005), and The Voice (2011-), on which she is a judge. She has also appeared in the films Smokin’ Aces (2006), The Nanny Diaries (2007), and The Secret Life of Bees (2008).
Keys took part in the famed Women’s March on Washington on January 22, 2017 at which she gave a short empowering and unifying speech to the crowd. At the March, Keys also performed her hit song “Girl on Fire,” changing it to “These Girls are on Fire” for the event.
Keys has two sons, Egypt Daoud Dean and Genesis Ali Dean, with husband Kasseem Dean, commonly known as Swizz Beatz, a hip-hop artist and producer.