Alicia Keys and I are the same age and a world apart. I have a vague remembrance of when she first popped onto the music scene with the first single that I still know the words to “Fallin”. That was back in 2001. It seems like a lifetime ago.
Back then she was this new singer with braids in her hair and was one of the few writing her own songs. She played the piano and could sing songs that would silence any crowd. The strength and glory of her voice always brings the audience to its knees.
It is weird to me now thinking about that time, considering how I feel about her now and what I am going to share with you. At some point I went from fan to patron to disciple who worships hole heartily at the church of Alicia Keys and her lyrics. Her music has literally been the “key” to my salvation and I didn’t notice that irony until last week.
But first let me back track. Just about five years ago (oh that magic number five), one of my best and closest friends was diagnosed with a rare and terminal case of cancer. We had gone to college together and had at that point in time drifted apart. When I learned of her illness I of course reconnected. As she fought for her life, I fought for her soul. What is the good of surviving if you have no quality of life? No one to love you and remember the gift of having you in their world?
“No one” would indeed be the only words I would need.
When Alicia Keys released her album “As I am” in November 2007, her single “No One” would become the most listened to song in 2007 in America. Lord knows I have done my share. I don’t remember the first time I heard it but I remember the first time I told my friend about it. She had a particularly hard day and I was trying to find the right words to lift her spirits. The song came on the radio I was listening to at work. It all seemed like fate. I began franticly typing the lyrics into an email to send to her. But nothing compares to hearing it from Alicia.
After that this song became our anthem. I would listen to it when I couldn’t sleep. I would sing it to her as a prayer in my mind. It made us feel strong we when felt helpless and weak. We did not live near each other so visiting was not an option at first. Having this bond and knowing that no matter what we had each other and that our friendship was a gift, the depths of which most people couldn’t understand, was all so clear in this song despite that it sounds like a love song at first. Well I guess it is a love song any way you look at it.
I had sent my friend this album because it was as if Alicia knew my friend was also a “Superwoman” yet another single from this album. There were too many coincidences.
As I sit here and recount those moments I am practically dry heaving. I have no idea how I was not a basket case hysterically crying louder than she was singing that night. But somehow I was able to sit there looking at my beautiful and brave friend and enjoy it. We held each other, looking at Alicia, and sang at the top of our lungs!!! It was the most amazing night. My pictures from that night are high on my list of the most precious in my collection. The memory they created are priceless.
We have gone on with our lives and our friendship I am happy to report. We of course are still Alicia Keys fans. Her follow up album, “The Element of Freedom” produced N.Y.C.’s anthem “Empire State of Mind” and many other songs I love. There is really nothing she can write or sing that I will hate. The woman is just too talented and in concert she will blow you away. I went to see her when she was on tour for her latest album and got the bonus of seeing Beyonce and Jay-Z when they came on stage for their respective songs with Alicia. N.Y.C. really is the greatest on earth.
I am so looking forward to her new album “Girl on Fire” which is coming out at the end of November this year. In promotion of that album and tour which will start next year, I got to see Alicia in a new format. Last week I was lucky enough to see her at 92Y being interviewed by the one and only Jonathan Tish. Talk about two birds and one stone.
When she walked on to that stage I got chills. Of course I was in the orchestra section of that great hall and even though I was far back her presence was large enough to fill that room. I was so excited but calm. Usually when I see an idol of mine at events like this I am anxious or nervous but I didn’t feel any of that. I felt calm, like I was with a friend. I felt like I knew her (not like in a creepy stalker way). I have read a lot about her and the interviews about the meaning behind her songs so I knew a lot about what she might say. But nothing compares to what I learned.
For instance it never EVER occurred to me that her real last name is not Keys. I have no idea why but it never dawned on me. She was telling us (swear to God almost wrote me) about how she came to that name, it turns out a mentor of hers had a dream about it; she wanted to go with Wilde. I had to wait until I came home to look it up. I won’t hold you in that suspense. She was born Alicia Augello Cook. So glad she changed it. Her real name sounds fake to me.
She talked about how she got into the business at sixteen, how her success started so fast, about her husband, and how she loves being a mother to her two year old son Egypt who was named for her special connection to the trip she took there.
She was lovely and natural. She seemed genuinely happy to be there. Happy and proud to be in her hometown, apparently blocks from where she grew up, and now back there on top. I have a feeling if I didn’t know who she was and I bumped into her on the street she would be just as nice. I like someone who stays true to themselves.
Besides being a mother and world famous recording star, she talked about her upcoming black ball for her foundation “Keep a Child Alive" which raises money for medication for children who have AIDS (see link below). She also has designed a new sneaker collection for Rebok (see link below).
My favorite part of this evening was when she was asked by Mr. Tish about the song “No One”. Who was it written for? Did she know it was going to be a big success? She said that song was the perfect example of the magic of music. That the song just came to her and out of her. She began to hum and sing the chorus “everything’s going to be alright”. She said those words just came to her one day. I was instantly a puddle of tears. I wanted her to keep going and stop at the same time. I couldn’t breathe. She sounded just as good as she does on stage and the proximity of her at this moment was unreal. I felt like we were alone. She didn’t sing any other lines from that song but it was perfect the way it was. She said that song could be for anyone: family members, friends, etc. She said she now knows she wrote it for her husband.
When asked what she sings to her son she said one of her favorites is the lullaby from Cinderella and hummed a few bars of that “so this is love…..” What a lucky boy he is.
Although there was no meet and greet afterwards I was ok with that. I had my cds and camera on me just in case. But I had not really thought ahead of what I would have said to her. I had not braced myself. I don’t know if I could have handled it. I hope to have the opportunity to thank her some day. She deserves to know how special and powerful her music is.
Alicia Keys is one of the few artists who makes amazing and life changing music. While the music is fun to sing along to, it is also uplifting especially with such strong messages for fellow women. That is one of the parts I always have connected with.
She has shown me “A Woman’s Worth” and to love my “Empire State of Mind”. Now with her new single, Alicia Keys has encouraged me to be a “Girl on Fire”.
But the KEY to my gratitude and soft spot in my heart for Alicia Keys will always be “No One”. Every time I hear it I smile, tear up, and give thanks.
I can’t wait to see what I learn next.
For Alicia Keys, her new music, and many projects: