Passion at an Early Age
Alicia Keys began piano lessons at age 7. Her mother's insistence that her daughter stick with the instrument led Keys to attend Manhattan's prestigious Professional Performance Arts School, where she majored in choir. Having excelled academically, Keys was allowed to graduate at the age of 16.
While already attracting the attention of record company executives, a bidding war for her talents ensued. She was accepted to Columbia University on a full scholarship, but after a four-week stint, opted to drop out and devote herself fully to her music.
Her mother tells us how she encouraged Alicia's passion for music growing up:
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."
Professional Female Insecurities WERE Rampant, but Times are Changing
Despite her talent and potential for success, Keys admits to her lifelong struggles with insecurity. The singer shared that before starting work on her last album, she wrote a list of everything she was sick of, including females being 'brainwashed' into feeling like they must look skinny and perfect.
From a young age, Keys explains, she used to get a lot of attention from men because of her curvy figure. Echoing a feeling many women are unfortunately faced with, Keys recalls how men would catcall her on the streets of New York, which made her nervous to draw any more attention to herself than was necessary. So early on in her career, she started wearing long braids and baggy jeans, embracing a 'tomboy' style that allowed her to deflect unwanted advances.
While exploring the constant judgement faced by women, Keys penned the track, 'When A Girl Can’t Be Herself' and admits she started to feel like she was “not good enough for the world to see”.
On January 21, 2017, Keys and a lineup of celebrity activists participated in the Women's March on Washington. The March inspired sister marches all over the country and the world, and drew over half a million people to Washington, DC, where they demonstrated in support of women's rights and equality for all. In her address to the crowd, Keys said: "Let us continue to honor all that is beautiful about being feminine. We are mothers. We are caregivers. We are artists. We are activists. We are entrepreneurs, doctors, leaders of industry and technology. Our potential is unlimited."
Perseverance and Success!
In 1999, Clive Davis, head of Arista Records, left the prominent record company where he worked to start J Records. Keys decided to follow Davis, who had engineered the careers of soul luminaries such as Aretha Franklin, to his new label. Unlike many of her pop-music contemporaries, the precocious Keys not only sings, but writes and produces her own music. At J Records, Keys found the freedom to complete her debut effort, which included material she had started work on years prior.
Clive Davis carefully orchestrated a media blitz before the release of Keys' first album, including a series of television and small venue appearances, including an appearance on Oprah the day before the album hit shelves. When it was finally released, Keys' debut album, Songs in A Minor (2001), went platinum five times over. Critics roundly praised the album not only for its musical polish, but also for its lyric maturity. At the 2002 Grammy Awards, Keys took home awards for Song of the Year, Best R&B Song, Best R&B Album, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best New Artist. She has been recognized as one of the most important soul singers of her generation.
Alicia Keys is one of many women who have paved the way for a new generation of young girls to follow their dreams to unlimited success.