To be sure, Alicia Keys (born Alicia Cook) is deeply, relentlessly, naturally talented. That much has been clear to the world since 2001, when her debut album, Songs in A Minor, swept the Grammy Awards. It was obvious to those closest to her long before.
When Alicia was growing up in the notorious Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York, her mother—single, fierce—supplied ample encouragement. By age seven, Alicia had found her muse in the piano, the instrument that would inspire her stage name; soon she was creating original compositions, translating emotion into lyrical syllables and onto musical staffs. Her songs blend R&B, jazz, pop, soul, and classical music into a sound that’s at once familiar and inimitable. The accolades that she’s accumulated speak for themselves: 15 Grammys, seven hit studio albums, four No. 1 singles, more than 42 million records sold worldwide.
Here are my favourite take aways from viewing Alicia Keys Masterclass Session on Songwriting and Producing:
In recent years, Alicia’s music has reflected changes in her personal life and the world. The evolution heard on her impassioned 2016 release, Here, found her experimenting with new sounds; it’s her most hip-hop-influenced album to date, with a bold, compassionate message of justice and peace. Songs like “Blended Family,” “The Gospel,” and “She Don’t Really Care_1 Luv” eloquently place her own experiences—marriage, motherhood— within a larger social context while adapting to a new sonic palette of driving beats, sparser soundscapes, and bluesy vocals.
ALICIA, released in September 2020, picks up that thread and runs with it. The album features some of the most political songs of her career (“Perfect Way to Die,” “Good Job”) while making space to collaborate with young artists like Sampha, Khalid, and Tierra Whack.
The Suzuki Method
Developed in the mid-20th century by the Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki, the Suzuki Method is an educational system that teaches children how to play music with the same ease that they learn to speak their native language. Practitioners start early—Alicia was around six years old when she began— and develop rigorous habits through repeated practice and sequential introduction to classical compositions.
“If a child hears fine music from the day of his birth and learns to play it himself, he develops sensitivity, discipline, and endurance. He gets a beautiful heart.”
When Alicia first traveled to South Africa, in 2003, she witnessed the devastation wrought by the AIDS epidemic firsthand. It inspired her to embrace activism and cofound her first nonprofit, Keep a Child Alive. The organization provides financial and programmatic support to community organizations in Kenya, Rwanda, India, and elsewhere, at last count serving more than 150,000 people a year.
A prolific recording career hasn’t kept Alicia from pursuing other creative endeavors, from movies and TV to book publishing and voice-over work. Here is a short list of her most surprising nonmusical pursuits.
Tears for Water -2004
- Part journal, part songbook, this expansive lyrical collection appeared on The New York Times Best Sellers list. The title is borrowed from her poem “Love and Chains,” which includes the line “I don’t mind drinking my tears for water.
- Alicia lent her talents to a playful Nickelodeon animated children’s series as the voice of Mommy Martian.
- Alicia made her big-screen debut playing an assassin in this stylish Las Vegas action flick, costarring alongside Ryan Reynolds, Andy García, and Ben Affleck.
The Secret Life of Bees – 2008
- Diving into the world of dramatic acting, Alicia performed in Bees, adapted from Sue Monk Kidd’s bestselling novel, and received an NAACP Image Award nomination.
Five – 2011
- Alicia’s directorial debut saw her helm a segment of the Lifetime anthology series, which told stories about living with breast cancer.
- Lydia R. Diamond’s play, about competing brothers in a wealthy Black family, opened on Broadway with Alicia billed as both a coproducer and composer.
Empire – 2013
- Alicia portrayed fictitious pop star Skye Summers—and sang the anthem “Powerful”—during a two-episode arc on Fox’s acclaimed hip-hop drama.
Grammy Awards -2019
- After amassing 15 gilded gramophone trophies of her own, Alicia took over hosting duties of the TV event to great acclaim.
More Myself -2020
- Alicia’s raw and candid autobiography was the first release from Oprah Winfrey’s publishing imprint, An Oprah Book— and Alicia’s first foray into the world of audiobook narration.
- Alicia coproduced this coming-of-age flick about a spirited North Carolina dance team through her production company, AK Worldwide. According to director Laura Terruso, it topped Netflix’s Top 10 the week of its premiere.
- Practice, Practice, Practice
- Learn and model the best
- Perfection is overrated
- Always be Learning – Be continuously curious
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All the best in your quest to get better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.