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/editorial/2005-03-16/KeyesAlicia.jpg
Singer and pianist Alicia Keys added to her list of Grammys this year for her album 'The Diary of Alicia Keys.' The eight-time Grammy award-winner is gearing for a spring tour, including a March 23 stop in St. Louis.

Alicia Keys boasts talent, style, image of a timeless artist



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Singer and pianist Alicia Keys added to her list of Grammys this year for her album 'The Diary of Alicia Keys.' The eight-time Grammy award-winner is gearing for a spring tour, including a March 23 stop in St. Louis.
March 16, 2005 - By ALAN SCULLEY

For the Call

In her short career, Alicia Keys has seen firsthand how the task of creating and furthering an image, particularly from a marketing standpoint, is sometimes as important an ingredient in building success as the music an artist creates.

In Keys' case, an image can be established by simply seeing her wear a fedora on a television performance or, as is the case with her newest CD, "The Diary of Alicia Keys," in photos featured in the booklet that comes with the CD.

But especially for Keys, an artist who brings considerable musical talent to the piano bench, including songwriting ability, a velvety smooth singing voice and classical training on her primary instrument, striking a balance between visuals and her musical abilities is an especially delicate task.

It's an issue to which Keys keenly is attuned.

"I have to say that's something I deal with every day," Keys said in a recent teleconference interview. "And it's really important for me to keep integrity for what I do. My music is, I'm very, very, very passionate about it, and often times, things do become less about the music and more about the image or more about kind of, I don't know, a certain political game, shall we say.

"Obviously that is something that comes with the territory, but I think it's a choice that one makes, and I choose to put my music first and to have a certain integrity that goes along with what I do, and it's something that challenges me constantly, but I think that's what life is about."

Her two CDs — "Songs in A Minor" and "The Diary of Alicia Keys" — have given Keys the musical credibility that some young female artists have a hard time es-tablishing.

The second CD features just one cover tune and on originals such as "Karma," "Dragon Days" and "Wake Up," Keys deftly blends her love of vintage soul, R&B and pop with a modern rhythmic sensibility that draws strongly from hip-hop and jazz.

Ballads like "If I Ain't Got You," "You Don't Know My Name" and "Diary," though, scale back the rhythms and let Keys' piano playing and vocals carry the songs.

The timeless sound Keys crafts on "The Diary of Alicia Keys" is very much in character with the musical identity she established on "Songs in A Minor," and the stylistic consistency between the CDs is no accident.

"I have to say that honestly my theory is it's not broke, so don't fix it," Keys said. "Another theory, when I do my music, my music is very, it's not contrived. I don't sit there and I don't think about how am I going to put this together that's going to make it (acceptable)."

That philosophy is hard to question at this point in the career of Keys, who was born 24 years ago as Alicia Augello Cook to mixed-race parents and grew up in New York City.

She landed a deal with Columbia Rec-ords at age 16, but that deal soured when the label went through a management shakeup and Keys had creative differences with the new regime.

Clive Davis, then president of the new label J Records, stepped in and negotiated a deal that brought Keys, who had nearly finished "Songs In A Minor" while on Columbia, to his label.

"Songs In A Minor" became a blockbuster debut, selling more than 10 million copies worldwide, producing a massive hit in "Fallin'" and netting five Grammys.

"The Diary Of Alicia Keys" went to No. 1 on Billboard magazine's album chart when it was released in December 2003 and since has sold more than 3 million copies. It won the Grammy earlier this month for best R&B album and also earned Grammys for female R&B performance for "If I Ain't Got You" and R&B song for "You Don't Know My Name."

With an upcoming spring tour, solidifying her audience may be among Keys' immediate goals. But in the longer run, she has other ambitious goals, including starting her own record label.

"Being able to have a brainchild of yours come into existence is very fulfilling, and it's also very powerful," Keys said when asked if having a label might be in her future.

"There's a certain power that you hold, where you are not only the president, you're not just in front of the scenes, you're behind them and you're the one with the creative ideas kind of pulling it all together. That's something that I definitely aspire to do."

Alicia Keys plays March 23 at the Fox Theatre, 527 N. Grand. Tickets for the 8 p.m. show, which also features John Le-gend, cost $37.50 to $57.50.

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