Job description: Singer, songwriter, pianist
Breakthrough: Debut album, “Songs in A Minor” (J Records), hits No. 1 in its first week of release and has been near the top of the charts for almost five months.
In the works: Continues to tour as a headliner and is booked as part of Elton John’s “The Concert: 20 Years With AIDS” benefit on Dec. 12 at Universal Amphitheater.
The day after the Grammys ceremony in February, J Records hosted a gathering in a Westwood hotel suite to introduce an unknown. She entered the room of about 25 movers and shakers from the promotional side of the biz, sat down at an electric piano and played a little Beethoven and Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin” before launching into her own material. Four months later, those songs were driving the No. 1 album in the country, and Alicia Keys went from Clive Davis’ latest project to budding supserstar whose name was on everyone’s lips.
A New Yorker known for her colorful braids, Keys exploded on the music scene with the single “Fallin’ ” and the album “Songs in A Minor,” which has since sold more than 3 million copies. Odds are, it will go down as the biggest selling debut album released in 2001. Critics, too, have responded with enthusiasm equal to the record-buying public, hailing her employment of classic soul techniques and modern R&B sensibilities.
Though only 20 years old, she performed, impressively, Donny Hathaway’s “Someday We’ll All Be Free” at the post-disaster “America: A Tribute to Heroes” concert, a show that put her on the same stage as Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Stevie Wonder and other artists whose careers began before she was born.
She started playing the piano at 7 and was signed to her first recording contract at 16; Keys has since developed a command of the studio, producing and arranging her own material. Most recently, she wrote a song for Columbia TriStar’s biopic “Ali.”
“Success doesn’t just mean that I’m the singer and I get paid,” Keys told Vibe magazine. “I plan to expand in every way possible.”