Lovers of music around the world are familiar with the name Alicia Keys. The singer-songwriter is a multiple Grammy Award-winner whose first album, “Songs in A Minor,” went platinum five times over. If you’ve ever wanted to know more about the “Mr Piano Man” songwriter, read on for some of the most surprising facts even her biggest fans might not know.
1. She was born in New York
Alicia Keys was born in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City.
2. She was raised by a single mother in a tough neighbourhood
Keys’ father left when she was two years old and she was raised by her mother during her formative years in Hell’s Kitchen.
Her mother often worked three jobs to provide for Keys, who, “learned how to survive,” from her mother’s example of tenacity and self-reliance.
She said of her neighborhood: “My neighborhood was porno hell — prostitutes everywhere,” she told Oprah.
This caused her to promise herself that no matter “how difficult it gets, I will never do that.”
3. Alicia Keys isn’t her real name
It’s Alicia Augello-Cook!
Alicia Keys wanted a professional name to replace her last names, Augello Cook — her mother’s last name, Augello, and her father’s last name, Cook.
She began searching for a new last name with the help of her mother. She first landed on the name Alicia Wild after perusing a dictionary for ideas, but her mother quickly intervened, telling Keys, “It sounds like you’re a stripper”
She then chose Keys, saying, “It’s like the piano keys. And it can open so many doors.”
4. She appeared in an episode of the Cosby Show when she was five
When she was only five years of age, she appeared in an episode of The Cosby Show. The “Empire State Of Mind” singer had just a brief appearance on screen as she took part in a sleepover with pals of the Huxtables’ daughter Rudy.
Since The Cosby Show, Alicia played the character of June Boatwright in the 2008 big-screen movie The Secret Life of Bees, which earned her a nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture at the NAACP Image Awards.
5. Alicia Keys started playing the piano when she was 7
But they were so poor, she begged to quit her lessons.
Thankfully, her mom intervened. “My mom would tell me, ‘Quit what you like, but you’re not quitting piano.’ She didn’t care what it cost.”
This led Keys to attend Manhattan’s prestigious Professional Performance Arts School, where she majored in choir.
6. She dropped out of college to pursue music
Keys finished high school early, graduating at age 16, and then won a scholarship to Columbia University. But she decided to pursue a music career and chose Columbia Records instead.
Keys admitted, she almost made a big mistake when signing the major deal.
She almost signed on the dotted line just to get a brand new baby grand piano!
“My manager’s like, “Whoa, wait a minute,” she told Oprah. “[But] to me, that white baby grand piano was everything.”
In the end, she got a similar piano and good negotiations thanks to her manager.
Still, it wasn’t until J Records and famed producer Clive Davis took her on that Keys’ career truly took off.
7. Early on in her career, she encountered an uncomfortable photoshoot where she felt taken advantage of
Keys revealed in her book More Myself, about being “manipulated” and “objectified” by a photographer when she was 19 years old.
At the time, the “Diary” singer was gearing up for the release of her debut album, Songs in A Minor.
“When you’re trying to get your music heard and yourself out there, it’s rare that you get big opportunities, and this one was awesome,” Keys recalled in an interview with q host Tom Power.
She said the photographer convinced her team that he needed to take the photos of her alone, and “led [her] into” taking “provocative” pictures that left her in tears when she returned home.
“It was like, ‘Can you just kind of lift this a little bit? Can you pull this down a little bit? Can you open this a little bit?'” remembered Keys.
Keys remained silent because she was afraid that she wouldn’t get other opportunities if she protested. She was new to the industry and didn’t want to be labeled as difficult to work with.
“If I say no, what doors will be closed to me? I swallow my misgivings, tuck my thumb between the denim and my skin, and obey,” she recollected.
According to Alicia, “This isn’t about me showing some skin, which I’ll do on my own terms, for my own purposes, in the coming years. It’s about feeling manipulated. It’s about being objectified.”
The 39-year-old said her manager at the time, Jeff Robinson, was appalled when he finally saw the magazine cover months later, and she was “beyond embarrassed” and “ashamed” of it.
It was also a turning point for her, as she became determined to honor her true, authentic self.
“I swear that I’ll never again let someone rob me of my power,” Alicia continued, adding, “It’s a promise I still work to keep.”
8. She’s the second female artist to win five Grammy Awards in one night
Keys’ first Grammy came in 2002 for Best New Artist. That year, her debut album Songs in A Minor took home Best R&B Album, while the hit single “Fallin’” won three categories, making her the second solo female artist (after Lauryn Hill) to win five Grammys in one night. She’s won a total of 15 Grammys.
9. She’s released a James Bond theme song
In 2008, Keys recorded “Another Way to Die” with Jack White which served as the theme song for Quantum of Solace. In 2009, the music video earned the pair a Grammy nomination for Best Video.
10. She’s married to music producer husband Swizz Beatz
Keys married Kasseem Dean—aka prolific record producer and rapper Swizz Beatz—in July 2010 in a small ceremony officiated by Deepak Chopra on the French island of Corsica.
“We were both in the same industry,” Keys told the Daily Mail in 2012. “We first met when we were something like 16—a high-school friend of his ended up being managed by the same people as me. He and I used to hang out and say things like, ‘Maybe we’ll work together one day.’ It’s cute that we knew each other when we were 16 but it was not an instant connection. It was a very slow burn, but it does still burn and it’s beautiful.”
Alicia shares two children with her husband Swizz Beatz. Their eldest son, Egypt Daoud Dean, was born in October 2010 and their second son, Genesis Ali Dean, in December 2014. She’s also stepmom to husband Swizz Beatz’s three other children, Kasseem Jr., Nicole, and Prince.
11. She’s closed with the Carters
In 2009, Beyonce featured on Alicia’s song “Put It In A Love Song,” which was taken from her fourth studio album, The Element of Freedom, and throughout their careers, the singers have expressed their fondness for each other.
Keys has also written and collaborated with Jay-Z for their smash hit, Empire State of Mind, which, after its release in October 2009, became one of the best-selling tracks the following year.
But to understand just how close Alicia has become with the Carters, in 2013, Alicia Keys sat down for a candid chat on The Wendy Williams Show, where she told the former radio personality how her son, Egpyt, had once kissed Blue Ivy, much to the dismay of Jay-Z.
“I think Egypt kissed Blue and I don’t think Jay liked it very much,” she gushed. “He called my husband and he was like, ‘Watch your son.’”
12. She was accused of stealing her husband
In 2009, Swizz’s ex-wife Mashonda Tifrere accused Keys of “destroying a family” in a lengthy Twitter after Alicia and Swizz announced their engagement less than a month after her divorce.
“My concern with [Alicia Keys] is no longer the fact that she assisted in destroying a family but that she has the audacity to make these selfish comments about love and wanting to be with someone, even after knowing their situation,” she wrote, according to Vibe. “I feel that after [one] and a half years of you hiding this affair and acting like it [doesn’t] exist, that now is the time to confront it, since you talk so openly about it now… You have no idea how much pain I was caused because of this affair.”
Alicia maintained that she did nothing wrong and that her husband, Swizz Beatz, was completely separated from his ex-wife before they got together.
‘We didn’t start seeing each other until months after they had separated,’ she said. ‘I was aware of all the false things that were being said about me it definitely hurt,’ added the 30-year-old.
Despite getting off to a bumpy start, the three former frenemies are now friends and are successfully co-parenting their blended family. They’ve even written a book together.
13. The singer and her husband Swizz Beats live in a $20.8 million pad in California
The ‘razor house’ is said to be the inspiration behind Tony Stark’s Razor Point home in the Iron Man film franchise. According to reports, it took more than six years to construct, and features six bedrooms with curved glass walls, a billiards room, a library, a tiered movie theatre and a home gym.
The couple calls the home ‘Dreamland’, saying it’s “a place to create dreams and to be bold enough to dream your wildest dream—for us to even be here is a wildest dream.”
When you come into our home… want you to feel loved, to feel safe, to feel relaxed. We want you to have a great meal. We want you to feel inspired,” said Alicia.