As a preschooler, Alicia Keys is singled out for her musical ability. "Her teacher, who was very much into the arts, had Alicia singing a song from Cats – at barely 4 years old," her mother Terri Augello, a professional actress, tells Ebony in 2007. Augello gets her daughter a gig on The Cosby Show (left) in March 1985 when she is 5, and enrolls her in gymnastics, piano, and ballet. "Being a single parent raising her in the city, I tried to give her every opportunity, just so she could find out what her muse was," Augello adds.
Keys, 14, meets Jeff Robinson at a Harlem PAL (Police Activities League), and he becomes her trusted friend and manager. At 16, Keys attends Columbia University, but leaves her studies for a record deal with Columbia Records. She encounters creative differences with the label, and Clive Davis, then head of Arista, buys out the 17-year-old's contract, and she follows him to his new label, J Records (from left, Robinson, Keys' mother Terri, Keys and Davis).
With producer Kerry "Krucial" Brothers, Keys find her sound and releases the piano-driven ballad "Fallin'," off her debut album Songs in A Minor. Rolling Stone says the album "unleashes neosoul's newest princess, a black woman impacted equally by hip-hop, soul, Prince and classical."
Keys is proclaimed "New Artist of the Year" by Rolling Stone, where she explains her connection with music: "I've had a deep love for music since I was four. Music came before everything, everything, everything. It just meant more than anything ever meant. I would risk everything for it...There was nothin' that was more important to me."
Keys walks out of the 44th Annual Grammy Awards with five statues for Best New Artist, Best R&B Album, Best R&B Song ("Fallin'"), Best Female R&B Vocal Performance ("Fallin'"), and Song of the Year ("Fallin'"). "I'd like to dedicate this to just thinking outside the box and not being afraid of who you are no matter what you do," the 22-year-old Keys says during her acceptance speech. That night, she ties with Lauryn Hill for most Grammys won by a female artist.
Keys releases her sophomore effort The Diary of Alicia Keys, which adds four more Grammys to her already impressive collection. "Everything is so much better on this album. My first album, I felt good about it, but I didn't know what I was doing," Keys tells Time.
After shooting down rumors questioning her sexuality and revealing that she has been in a relationship for years, Keys is spotted canoodling with longtime collaborator and constant companion, Kerry "Krucial Brothers" (left), at the launch party for her second album, reports the New York Daily News. "I've known him for a really long time," she tells Ebony in 2007, though she still refuses to identify her boyfriend. "It's a beautiful thing because he's known me before all of this stuff...It's really lovely to know I have such a great catch who not only loves me for just who I am, period, end of story."
After releasing Tears for Water, a collection of her poetry and unreleased lyrics and songs from albums, Keys uses her fame as an ambassador for Keep a Child Alive. She eventually helps raise $3 million for the organization that provides HIV and AIDS medicine to families in developing countries. In 2007, Keys releases How Can I Keep from Singing? (right), a collection of photographs of families and children before and after they receive retroviral treatment. "Being involved has given me a greater sense of purpose. It makes me see the power that we all have," she tells PEOPLE.
Keys plays a hitwoman opposite Ben Affleck in Smokin' Aces. Three months after wrapping her big screen debut, she films The Nanny Diaries (left), where she plays Scarlett Johansson's best friend. Although both films fail to deliver at the box office, Keys goes on to form a television production company, Big Pita/Little Pita.
After her single "No One" takes the No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100, Keys, 26, releases her latest album, As I Am. "I wanted to let go of any inhibitions and expectations," she tells Rolling Stone. "What I wanted was the energy of Aretha Franklin singing a Janis Joplin song." The Grammy winner enlists songwriter Linda Perry for "The Thing About Love," and John Mayer for "Lessons Learned."
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