Born Alicia Augello Cook in Harlem, NY on Jan. 25, 1981 to her Irish-Italian mother, Terri Augello, and her Jamaican father, Craig Cook, Keys was raised in the New York City neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen. Augello and Cook separated when Keys was still very young, leaving her to be raised primarily by her actress mother who provided support for her daughter’s bourgeoning musical talent. Keys began playing the piano at the age of seven, focusing on the classical compositions of Beethoven, Mozart and Chopin and later expanding her repertoire to jazz greats Oscar Peterson and Fats Waller. At the age of 14, Keys wrote her first original song, “Butterflyz” which later appeared on her debut album. Keys attended New York’s Professional Performing Arts School as a choir major where she honed her vocal skills while playing piano showcases around New York at night. An exceptional student, Keys graduated early at the age of 16 and was honored as class valedictorian. She went on to attend Columbia University briefly but decided instead to focus on a music career full-time.
Keys’ professional music career began rather quickly. The young songstress signed a demo recording deal with Jermaine Dupri on his So So Def label. Keys recorded her first song, “Dah Dee Dah (Sexy Thing),” which appeared on the “Men in Black” soundtrack in 1997. Her record company failed to release the song as a single, however, and conflict arose between Keys and the label about how to market her sound. She was soon picked up by Clive Davis’ Arista Records in 1998. When Davis left Arista a year later to form J Records, Keys followed and was one of the first artists signed to the new label. She recorded the songs “Rock Wit U” for the “Shaft” (2000) soundtrack, and “Rear View Mirror” for the “Dr. Dolittle 2″ (2001) soundtrack. In 2001, Keys released her debut album, Songs in A Minor, which built upon her classical pianist training and fused soul with modern hip-hop influences. When the radio play for the album’s first single, “Fallin,” failed to gather much attention, Davis booked Keys on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” (1986- ). Her heartfelt performance and Oprah’s gushing compliments reached millions of viewers. The album debuted on the Billboard Top 200 and sold 50,000 copies in its first day. Selling more than 10 million units worldwide, A Minor went on to earn Keys five Grammy Awards in 2002, including Best New Artist and Song of the Year for the single “Fallin.”
Keys’ sophomore album, The Diary of Alicia Keys, hit the shelves in December of 2003, debuting at number one in the U.S. Selling over 618,000 copies in its first week, Diary marked the second highest number of album sales by a female R&B artist and the sixth highest by a female artist. Keys went on to win another four Grammy Awards for the album, including Best R&B Album, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, and Best R&B Song for “You Don’t Know My Name.” Keys later released the acoustic performance album Unplugged in the October of 2005.
Alicia Keys and manager Jeff Robinson formed a television production company called Big Pita, Lil’ Pita. Keys and Robinson will develop live-action and animated projects from their company with Keys as producer, thespian, banner spearheading soundtrack and music supervision.
Shifting her talents to the big screen in 2006, Keys landed roles in two prominent Hollywood films – “Smokin Aces” (2007) with Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia and Jeremy Piven and “The Nanny Diaries” (2007) with Scarlet Johansson. Continuing her rapidly developing film career, Keys co-starred alongside Queen Latifah, Sophie Okonedo and Dakota Fanning in “The Secret Life of Bees” (2008), playing one of three beekeeping sisters who take in a 14-year-old girl (Fanning) after she runs away from home with her caretaker and only friend (Jennifer Hudson).
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. The album’s lead single, “No One”, peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for fifth consecutive weeks and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs for ten consecutive weeks. “No One” earned Keys the awards for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song at the 2008 Grammy Awards.
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.
In May 2010, Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz announced their engagement. The couple were married on the French island of Corsica on July 31, 2010. On October 14, 2010, Keys gave birth to a son, Egypt Daoud Dean.
In June 2011, Songs in A Minor was re-released as deluxe and collector’s editions in commemoration of its 10th anniversary.To support the release, Keys embarked on a four-city promotional tour, entitled Piano & I: A One Night Only Event With Alicia Keys, featuring only her piano. On September 26, 2011, was the premiere of Project 5 known as Five, short film that marks the debut of Alicia Keys as a director. It is a documentary of five episodes that tell stories of five women who were victims of breast cancer and how it affected their lives. The production also has co-direction of the actresses Jennifer Aniston, Demi Moore and film director Patty Jenkins. Alicia Keys also co-produced and composed original music for the Broadway play Stick Fly, written by Lydia R. Diamon and directed by Kenny Leon.