Category: Alicia Keys

Grammys 2012: Paul McCartney feted as MusiCares Person of the Year

Paul McCartney performs at MusiCares Person of the Year gala

This post has been updated. See the note at the bottom for details.

Is anyone surprised that Friday night’s MusiCares Person of the Year gala honoring Paul McCartney shattered the record for the fund-raising event, generating more than $6.5 million for the Recording Academy’s division that provides medical care and other support for musicians in need?

For the price of a ticket (2,800 people paid a minimum of $1,500 to attend), audience members got to hear McCartney perform a handful of numbers as well as a cadre of peers sing his songs, from 25-year-old pop princess Katy Perry to 85-year-old pop music institution Tony Bennett, with the Foo Fighters, Coldplay, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Alison Krauss, Duane Eddy, Alicia Keys, Norah Jones, James Taylor, Diana Krall and Sergio Mendes joining them.

PHOTOS: MusiCares Person of the Year gala | Show

The entertainment started with a presentation by what appeared to be the full Cirque du Soleil cast of the Beatles “Love” show in Las Vegas, after which McCartney and his regular touring band appeared and started the live music with his Wings-era single “Junior’s Farm.”

The Foo Fighters took on “Jet,” Keys sang “Blackbird,” Krauss handled “No More Lonely Nights,” Bennett and his combo turned “Here, There and Everywhere” into a swinging jazz tune, Eddy brought his deep twang guitar to “And I Love Her,” Jones took “Oh! Darling,” Perry sang “Hey Jude,” Young bashed through “I Saw Her Standing There,” Mendes emphasized the Latin groove in “The Fool on the Hill,” Coldplay did “We Can Work It Out,” Krall sang “For No One” and Taylor crooned “Yesterday.”

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Black Ball benefit concert raises $3 million for HIV/AIDS aid in Africa

Alicia Keys Alicia Keys

The annual Black Ball benefit concert in New York raised more than $3 million for children and families in Africa and India who are affected by HIV/AIDS.

The eighth Keep a Child Alive event included performances by Black Ball co-founder Alicia Keys and guests Usher, Norah Jones, and others singing songs by former Beatle George Harrison, who was saluted on the 40th anniversary of the Concert for Bangladesh, the first rock music superstar benefit concert.

“I am overwhelmed by the kindness I saw last night,” Keys said in a statement issued Friday.

Keep a Child Alive started in 2003 and has generated more than $17 million and served more than 250,000 people through 11 clinical and orphan centers in South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and India.


Alicia Keys to compose original music for Broadway's 'Stick Fly'

Jay-Z, Alicia Keys a highlight of I Heart Radio fest, night one

Touring George Harrison's 'Material World' at the Grammy Museum

--Randy Lewis

Photo: Alicia Keys and her producer-husband Swizz Beats at the Keep A Child Alive Black Ball on Thursday in New York. Credit: Peter Kramer / Associated Press

RCA to close Jive, Arista and J label imprints [Updated]

Britney Spears
 RCA Music Group is slimming down for the holidays by shuttering its Arista, Jive and J Records subsidiaries, a move by new label execs to strengthen the identity of the RCA brand. Artists who have been with those three imprints, which have been home to Britney Spears, Alicia Keys, Rod Stewart, Pitbull, Whitney Houston, Justin Timberlake, Barry Manilow, R. Kelly, Kelly Clarkson, Fantasia, Dido, Jennifer Hudson, Leona Lewis and others, will be shifted to RCA.

[Updated at 11:11 a.m. Oct. 7: "In an effort to refresh RCA Records, all label imprints -- J Records, Arista Records and Jive -- will now be under the the iconic RCA Records label," according to a statement RCA issued Friday.]

Jive produced several of the biggest-selling albums of all time in the midst of the youth pop boom a decade ago, including the multiplatinum hits for 'N Sync, the Backstreet Boys and Spears.

There’s no mention so far of what role under the new arrangement will be played by Davis, who in recent years had continued to sign and develop artists on J.

On Friday morning, there was no indication of the change evident on Jive Records official website, but sites for both J and Arista now default to the RCA Music Group site.

[Updated at 1:27 a.m. Oct. 7: The changes do not affect the Arista Nashville label, or the other three country music labels that are under the Sony Music Nashville umbrella: RCA, Columbia and BNA.  "Arista Nashville and its respective roster are not impacted in any way," Gary Overton, Chairman and CEO, Sony Music Nashville, said Friday in a statement. "Our four-label Sony Music Nashville operations remain unchanged."]


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"Steve Jobs gave the blind eyes; the deaf ears" -- Stevie Wonder

-- Randy Lewis

Photo: Britney Spears. Credit: Ethan Miller / Getty Images

Alicia Keys to compose original music for Broadway's 'Stick Fly'


Alicia Keys is adding Broadway composer to her resume. The Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter is drafting original music for the upcoming play “Stick Fly,” representatives for the show announced  Tuesday.

“Stick Fly” focuses on an affluent African American family that has gathered for a weekend at its Martha's Vineyard home and stars Dulé Hill, Mekhi Phifer, Tracie Thoms, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Rosie Benton and Condola Rashad.

Tony-nominated direct Kenny Leon (“Fences,” “A Raisin in the Sun”) will direct the play, written by Lydia Diamond. "Stick Fly" begins previews Nov. 18 at the Cort Theatre and will open on Broadway on Dec. 8.

“This is a story that everybody can relate to,” Keys said in a statement. “I’m passionate about this play because it is so beautifully written and portrays black America in a way that we don’t often get to see in entertainment. I know it will touch audiences, who will find a piece of themselves somewhere inside this house.”

Keys also serves as one of the show’s producers.

Check out the singer introducing the show after the jump.

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Lady Gaga, Coldplay, Bruno Mars, Carrie Underwood, Sting tapped for iHeartRadio Music Festival

Billed as "the biggest live music event in radio history," the two-day festival, set for the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in September, also features Alicia Keys, Nicki Minaj and Kelly Clarkson.


Though summer has already had its fair share of big-ticket, multiday festivals, Clear Channel is kicking off fall with what it's billing as "the biggest live music event in radio history."

The radio conglomerate on Monday announced the lineup for the inaugural iHeartRadio Music Festival, and the roster for the two-day festival, set for Sept. 23 and 24 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, is quite the who’s who among Top 40.

Night 1 features performances by Coldplay, Alicia Keys, the Black Eyed Peas, John Mayer, Carrie Underwood, Bruno Mars and Jane's Addiction. While Night 2 has Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler, Kenny Chesney, Nicki Minaj, Rascal Flatts, Kelly Clarkson, David Guetta, Sublime with Rome and special guest performances by Sting and Usher.

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Personal Playlist: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

Villaraigosa When can L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa snag any time to hear music? "I listen primarily when I work out," Villaraigosa says. "Or I'll have music on when people are over."

 The mayor's iPod is stocked with an eclectic mix of classic and contemporary R&B, hip-hop, Latin pop, rock -- and even a touch of country.

Scrolling through his iPod and pulling off favorites, in no particular order, he name-checked 2Pac's "Keep Ya Head Up," Patsy Cline's "Crazy," Luther Vandross' "Dance With My Father," Celia Cruz's "La Llave" and Alicia Keys' "A Woman's Worth."

He also flagged Bill Withers' '70s soul classic "Lean on Me," Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" -- "Just a beautiful song," Villaraigosa said -- Cuban dance band Buena Vista Social Club's "Chan Chan," Mexican singer Alejandro Fernandez's "Qué Voy a Hacer con Mi Amor" and Mary J. Blige's "Never Too Much."

"I didn't even list classical," he said. "I listen to a lot of world music; I listen to all kinds of stuff. I had a little downtime last night to do this. Then after I picked these songs, I thought of all the artists who are probably going to be upset that I didn't include them. But it's really just a snapshot of my eclectic musical taste."

 -- Randy Lewis


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Alicia Keys at Staples Center: From 'Caged Bird' to 'Freedom' fighter


Alicia Keys has said her “Freedom” tour is all about liberation, finding yourself, letting go of anything that may be holding you back, self-love and possibilities. She made sure those themes were heard loud and clear at her concert Tuesday night at Staples Center.

As images of barbed wire fences flashed on multiple screens, Keys slowly emerged onstage, trapped in a cage adorned with heavy chains. She teased the audience with “Caged Bird” from her debut album before launching into the opening number, “Love Is Blind,” from her newest album, “The Element of Freedom.”

Playing every bit the pop diva, Keys, in form-fitting silver sequined pants and a red blazer, dramatically broke from the cage, turning her new-found freedom into an instant celebration. She sang and danced with a small arsenal of dancers to the opening and “You Don’t Know My Name,” the Kanye West-produced hit from her second album, which she infused with West’s own “Flashing Lights.” Although the audience might not have recognized the electronic-tinged original, Keys commanded the concertgoers with moves and vocal acrobatics befitting a pop diva.

But unlike many of her contemporaries, she had an inspirational message attached to the glitzy production. Whether it was “peace,” “love” or “unity” (all of which flooded the screens at some point or other), Keys came to entertain and uplift.

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Alicia Keys finds her 'freedom' on tour

A_keysSince releasing her critically acclaimed debut album, “Songs in A Minor,” nearly nine years ago, Alicia Keys has shown no signs of slowing down. Over the years she has churned out chart-topping albums, dabbled in film and taken on philanthropic work by devoting time to Keep A Child Alive, a program for children and their families with HIV/AIDS in Africa.

The 12-time Grammy award winner’s fourth album, “The Element of Freedom,” debuted No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 200 chart -- appropriate given that she was named the R&B/hip hop artist of the decade in December by the magazine.

In support of the album, Keys has embarked on a tour that ends Saturday at Oakland’s Oracle Coliseum. On the eve of her show in Los Angeles at Staples Center Tuesday night (with Melanie Fiona and Robin Thicke as openers), Pop & Hiss spoke to Keys about the show, that highly anticipated video featuring Beyoncé, and her passionate “life-changing” charity work.

For those that have seen your previous tours, you’re heavy on storytelling. What did you want to create when you did the Freedom Tour?

There’s definitely a theme to this tour, and coming off of “The Element of Freedom” and calling this “The Freedom Tour,” it’s really a great theme. It’s a theme about liberation, about finding yourself, about finding your own way, about letting go of anything that may be holding you back, about self-love, about possibilities. It’s definitely themed along those lines. Although it’s a really heavily musical show and it’s really about the music first and foremost, that message comes through loud and clear, and that’s something that I really, really wanted to be a main part of the show so people not only leave with a musical experience and a visual experience, but an emotional experience.

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Album review: Alicia Keys' 'The Element of Freedom'

Keys_freedom__240_On her fourth studio outing, the pop-R&B diva digs deep into the multitude of implications of independence, discovering that for just about anybody other than a Superwoman, it can bring up issues of loneliness and insecurity as well as the potential for strength through self-sufficiency.

In "Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart," she's crafted an intriguing refrain: "I'm gonna find a way to make it without you . . .," admitting she's still searching for a full-fledged sense of security in whatever newfound freedom she's come into. But then she extends the thought with the kicker word ". . . tonight."

Is she taking the one-day-at-a-time approach of a 12-step program for romantic addiction? Is it merely the application of an emotional band-aid? Or might she be asserting that the path to true independence always begins right here, right now? It's never entirely clear, and the ambiguity makes the song that much richer.

She's said in interviews that the album's title also connotes her shift for this work from the professional recording studios she's previously used to a home setup she's assembled. Sonically she and the album's main co-producers -- Jeff Bhasker, Kerry "Krucial" Brothers and Swizz Beatz -- paint with broad strokes, in some cases freely slathering on colors and textures in contrast to the comparatively simpler approach on earlier tracks such as her 2007 hit "No One." In some of cases, one wishes she'd exercised a little less of the freedom she has to add anything and everything that's at her disposal.

She does pull back the reins effectively in "Love Is My Disease," which opens with sparse backing and a subtle reggae undercurrent; Keys allows her usually impeccable voice to express the fraying of emotion as she faces her inability to stand tall.

On the flip side, self-confidence is in full flower in "Put It in a Love Song," her effervescent duet with Beyoncé that has "hit single" written all over it. Drake drops in for some background vocals on "Un-thinkable (I'm Ready)."

She closes the 14-song collection with "Empire State of Mind (Part II) Broken Down," reprising her portion of the recent collaboration with Jay-Z, done ballad style with additional lyrics that testify to the strength she draws from her surroundings in the great metropolis.

After the all-too-human ups and downs she's experienced through the rest of the album, ultimately she comes out of it sounding pretty, well, super.

-- Randy Lewis

Alicia Keys
"The Element of Freedom"
(J Records)
 Three stars (Out of four)

An anatomy of Susan Boyle's 'Wild Horses' cover

In last night's finale performance on "America's Got Talent," Susan Boyle, the breakout star of the program's British analogue, wowed the three judges -- the hodgepodge council of Sharon Osbourne, David Hasselhoff and Piers Morgan -- and the already cheering media with her version of the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses." In particular, Boyle's lifting of the chorus to a higher octave catches the ear, underscoring the desperation of the original and transforming it from resignation into one last aching plea.

But it turns out we've seen this particular hoofprint before. A quick tour of "Wild Horses" covers by lady musicians on YouTube shows that this soaring high read of the song's refrain has been rendered by no less than the Sundays' ethereal-voiced Harriet Wheeler, soulful songstress Alicia Keys in her duet with Adam Levine and populist cowgirl Sheryl Crow. Each has their own twist outside the octave change -- in the Keys/Levine version, Keys leads with fragments of Stevie Wonder's "Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer" and gives some of the lyrics a more wry, bluesy reading.

Covers are a delicate matter that can challenge any artist. How much DNA to keep of the original? How much of your own style can you stamp without obliterating the creator? In Boyle's case, did she simply imitate other covers of the original? It seems like Boyle sewed together a lovely quilt from what's already out there -- or a Frankenstein baby, albeit a cuddly one.

In a landscape where Keys is Clive Davis' mentee, and Boyle is Simon Cowell's, this may be a sure sign that we are in an Orwellian "American X-Factor's Got Talent So You Can Dance" entertainment universe where original artistic thinking is not encouraged. Instead, we get the replica of the replicas. Break on out, Ms. Boyle. You don't need Big Brothers or Big Sisters.

-- Ann Powers and Margaret Wappler

Photo: Trae Patton / NBC Universal


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