Alicia Keys' official website said she possesses an "old soul," and the hard facts seem to back up the implied claim of wisdom and experience that transcend her youth. Barely in her twenties, Keys was responsible for an extremely hot debut, Songs in A Minor. The release, which she wrote and produced for Clive Davis' J Records, blends diverse influences, including R&B, hip-hop, classical, and jazz. The day the album went on the market, it sold more than 50,000 copies. Label executives confidently predicted similarly favorable numbers for the first week's tally.
Around the time that Songs in A Minor was released, Keys was popping up everywhere, including an Associated Press story. Where had she been before then? Her entire life, it seems, had been an accelerated learning experience, preparing her for a career in music. A Manhattan native, her musical gifts became apparent when she was five years old. As a choir major enrolled in Manhattan's Professional Performance Arts School, she further developed her vocal talents with extra help from a teacher. By the time she was 16, Keys graduated and entered Columbia University. Music beckoned, however, and she quickly left Columbia behind.
Keys was writing songs when she was 14, with seven years of piano lessons under her belt by that time. In later years, she appeared on movie soundtracks, including Shaft and Men in Black. In 1998, she signed a deal with Arista Records when the company triumphed in a bidding war over other labels. When Davis left the company for J Records in 1999, Keys went along. Davis promoted the careers of such artists as Carlos Santana and Whitney Houston, and part of his launch strategy for Keys was to secure exposure on BET and MTV, as well as on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Her 2001 major-label debut, Songs in A Minor, hit number one, went multi-platinum, and was followed in 2003 by another chart-topper, The Diary of Alicia Keys, which became a Grammy winner. The live CD/DVD Unplugged appeared in 2005, following her previous releases to the top of the charts. Two years later, Keys released her third studio full-length, the poppier As I Am, which included contribution from Linda Perry and John Mayer, among others. ~ Linda Seida, All Music Guide