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Alicia Keys - Biography

The 'You Don't Know My Name' and 'Girl on Fire' singer was born January 25, 1981

Alicia Keys smiling at a red carpet photocall
Hannah Watkin
Content Writer
Updated: 14 June 2023
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Alicia Augello Cook, popularly known as Alicia Keys, was born to Terri Augello, an Italian-Irish paralegal, and Craig Cook, an African-American flight attendant, on January 25, 1981. The future 'Fallin'' hit singer's parents split when she was just two, and she was raised by her mum in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of New York. 

Musical beginnings

Alicia started singing as soon as she could speak, and quickly showed off some impressive musical talents. The 'Doesn't Mean Anything' star started piano lessons aged seven, and within two years was already playing Chopin sonatas. 

Aged 12, Alicia entered New York's Professional Performing Arts School to study voice and dance. In 1996, the aspiring vocalist graduated two years early – and first in her class. Despite her youth, a scholarship to Columbia University followed. However, with a recording contract already under her belt from when she as aged just 15, Alicia dropped out of college after just a month in order to pursue her singing career. 

Album fame

In 2000, Alicia left her original record company Columbia Records and signed to Arista. When this company's founder and president Clive Davis (famed for discovering voices such as Whitney Houston) retired, he set up a new label, J Records, and brought the talented singer-songwriter with him. Alicia made appearances on the soundtracks for Men In Black and the remake of Shaft, but it was her first full-fledged release: Songs In A Minor, that took her to the top of the charts in 2001. 

The eventual Grammy winner's second album, The Diary Of Alicia Keys was released in December 2003 and immediately took the number one spot in the US Billboard chart. Later releases have faired equally well. Her third album As I Am debuted at number one in the US in 2007 and went on to sell six million copies worldwide. Two years later she released The Element of Freedom, which went in at number two in the US, but became the first of her discs to top the UK album chart. 

In 2020, she debuted her eponymous seventh album. Alicia followed this up in 2021 with Keys, and then the surprise Christmas album Santa Baby in 2022. The latter was Alicia's first album released as an independent artist.

Acting career

No longer just in demand for movie soundtracks, the global star made the difficult leap onto the silver screen in the late aughts. She filmed her first major movie roles in 2006 alongside Scarlett Johansson in The Nanny Diaries and Ben Affleck in Smokin' Aces. She later appeared in The Secret Life of Bees with Queen Latifah and Jennifer Hudson.

Personal life

Though usually guarded about revealing details of her private life, Alicia did have some good news to share in 2010. In May she revealed she was expecting a baby with her music presenter boyfriend Swizz Beats, and their son Egypt was born in October that year. And there was more, the couple – who got together in autumn 2008 – got married in July 2010. In 2014, the couple welcomed their second son, Genesis Ali Dean.

Alongside her artistic pursuits, Alicia is also committed to humanitarian causes. She is the co-founder and Global spokeswoman for the charity Keep A Child Alive, and has visited Africa regularly to highlight the support needed for families affected by HIV and AIDS in that continent and in India. In 2018, Variety honored Alicia for her work with the charity at their Power of Women event.

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