She graduated as valedictorian from the Professional Performing Arts School in New York City when she was 16.
Columbia Records signed her out of high school, but refused to release the songs she wrote. Four years later, industry legend Clive Davis, who had signed Santana, Whitney Houston and Janis Joplin, signed her to his J Records and released her first album, Songs In A Minor, which went to #1.
Many people found out about her when she made appearances on Oprah and Jay Leno's shows in 2001. Clive Davis wrote a personal letter to Oprah which helped get her on.
Her mother is Italian and her father is black. They grew up in a poor section of New York City.
Keys learned classical piano through rigorous training using the Suzuki Method. She wanted to quit when she was 11, but her mom wouldn't let her.
"I was at the piano while everybody was outside playing," she told NPR. "It unlocked the ability to be able to write my own music and put my own chords and things I heard in my own head to different lyrics that I felt. And I never, ever had to wait for anybody to write something for me."
She writes and produces all her songs - something that makes her very marketable.
Her music combines elements of R&B, hip-hop, jazz, and classical music. All of these styles influenced her when she was growing up.
Her birth name is Alicia Augello-Cook. Her mother is Italian and Irish, her father is African-American. Alicia Keys explanation on why she chose her stage name: "It's like the piano keys. And it can open so many doors."
Keys was featured in a 2006 episode of The Backyardigans, a popular children's animated show. She voiced a singing green alien from Mars who sits, and does many other things, on her "Boinga." (thanks, Carrie - Burlington, CT)
In 2004, she released a book of poems and song lyrics called Tears For Water
. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
Alicia Keys married record producer, DJ, rapper and painter Swizz Beatz (real name Kasseem Daoud Dean) on July 31, 2010. Their son is Keys' first and Beatz' fourth child (he has 3 children from previous marriage with R&B singer Mashonda Tifrere).
Keys has used the same method for years to keep her voice immaculate. "You melt a handful of gummy bears in hot water and something about the glycerin really clears your voice," she explained to Extra
. "And it was amazing, my vocal coach told me it's like an ancient secret. Now I can eat gummy bears anytime I want!"
Keys made her television debut at the age of four, guesting on the Cosby Show in a cameo role as a sleepover friend of daughter Rudy Huxtable.
Alicia Keys' first professional recording was a song titled "Dah Dee Dah (Sexy Thing)." It appeared on the soundtrack to the 1997 film, Men in Black
, along with a track by another then unknown R&B act called Destiny's Child
Keys started songwriting at the age of 7 after friends of her mom gave away to them their 1930s upright piano. "When I was first learning songs, I'd have a favorite song and I'd take the chords and twist them around," Keys recalled to The Observer. "I'd learn the chords and then play them backwards. That was my first experimenting with writing a song."
Her first album was called Songs In A minor because Keys likes playing piano in minor key and her first name starts with A.
In her first movie role, she played a lesbian assassin in the 2006 film Smokin' Aces. She took the role because it defied expectations.
Alicia Keys played June Boatwright in the 2008 movie The Secret Life of Bees. Keys had to learn to play the cello in just four weeks for her role, which earned her a nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture at the NAACP Image Awards.
She stopped wearing makeup in 2016, championing the #nomakeup movement on Twitter. Her first public appearance without makeup was at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards, where she was a presenter. She tweeted the next day, "Me choosing to be makeup free doesn't mean I'm anti-makeup. Do you!"
Keys later said, "Whatever feels empowering is what a woman should do, and that's the most important message."
Alicia Keys told Fact Magazine
in 2016 that she is raising her kids in the same New York city neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen where she grew up, and they are taking piano lessons at the same school where she learned to play. "It's kind of crazy every time I walk in," she said. "On one hand it's a community and I feel very protected. On the other, I feel like I'm trapped in the Twilight Zone, all those memories."