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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Catch the Grammy winner at Verizon Center
Photo credit: Thierry LeGoues
written byAlfredo Flores On Tap Magazine June 2008

In the year leading up to the release of her hit third album, "As I Am," which has already sold 2.5 million copies and received two Grammy's for the song "No One," Alicia Keys needed a much deserved break. So she headed to Egypt, sans entourage and management, to clear her mind and re-energize. "That trip really gave me a certain perspective," said Keys, during a teleconference interview promoting her "As I Am" U.S. Tour, which stops by the Verizon Center on June 13. "To climb to the top and sing at the top of the pyramids, and to sail down the Nile River, things that have stood the test of time, it gave me a new outlook on our possibilities as human beings." Keys (born Alicia J. Augello-Cook) has never let boundaries stand in her way en route to selling more than 25 million albums and winning 11 Grammys and 11 Billboard Music Awards. Raised in New York's infamous Hell's Kitchen in the 1980s — then filled with drugs and street crime — she instantly gravitated to the arts after watching her mother of Irish, Scottish and Italian descent (her father is Jamaican) work several jobs while pursuing her acting dreams. Keys got her first onscreen exposure playing one of Rudy Huxtable's sleepover guests in an episode of "The Cosby Show," trained in classical piano since the age of seven, and graduated from the prestigious Professional Performing Arts School in Manhattan at age 16. She went on to sell 10 million copies of her debut album "Songs in A Minor" in 2001 and another nine million for her follow up "The Diary of Alicia Keys" in 2003. A few years later, after a death of a close family member, she became exhausted of producing, touring, acting and writing songs. Hence, the trip to Africa. To remind Keys of her experience there, she had a jeweler in Egypt custom-make a pendant out of the native Lapis lazuli stone — known for its intense blue color — shaped in the form of a pyramid. "So I can wear it near my heart," Keys said. "I just wanted to remember the fact that anything that I visualize in my mind, anything I see, I can make it real and I can make it timeless, and I can make it stand the test (of time), and it can never fall, and it can never break. People can come and be inspired by it every, every day." The reflection and time away from the studio paid dividends. Keys, with her new album, has an impressive body of work, more than enough to sell out large arenas across the U.S. and the world (she'll embark on a European and Southeast Asian tour, and perhaps South America, after the U.S. tour). "When I listen back to my albums, especially 'Songs in A Minor,' I go wooooow," said Keys, amazed at the progression she's made as an artist. "I sound like a baby!" Her acting roles have been just as diverse as her music, portraying an assassin in 2006's "Smokin' Aces," then a bohemian pal of Scarlett Johannson's in "The Nanny Diaries" last year. Next year she's set to play Philippa Schuyler, a 1940s biracial piano child prodigy in "Composition in Black and White." Musically, she embodies the best of R&B from her mom's generation and those before her, mixing styles of Marvin Gaye, Jimi Hendrix, and Nina Simone, and using piano as the base of her music. She also experiments, amplifying and distorting pianos, tweaking the foot pedals so they play like electric guitars; as well as enlisting violins, drums, synthesizers and other instruments. "I totally plan on continuing to flip it up," Keys said. What: Alicia Keys, with Neyo and Jordin Sparks When: June 13. Where Verizon Center Tickets: $49.50-$125 Info: or

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