Alicia Keys: 'A Woman's Worth'

Singer-Songwriter Is Causing A Stir In the Music World

If today's music scene is something of a blur for you, then singer-songwriter Alicia Keys is just the person to bring it back into focus.

What you see is exactly what you get with this talented 23-year-old performer. Keys writes her own songs, plays piano and keyboards exceptionally well, and can sing with the absolute best of them.

She only has two albums out, but they've sold more than 16 million copies. She's already won five Grammy Awards, and odds are she'll be in the running for more this year. As Correspondent Charlie Rose reports, it's clear that Keys is something special on stage and off.

Is the best time of her life when she's on stage?

"It's definitely one of the greatest experiences I've ever, ever had," says Keys, who burst onto the music world in 2001 with her debut album, "Songs in A Minor." That year, she won five Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist and Best Song for the hit "Fallin'".

The song caught the attention of everyone, including Stevie Wonder. "What made it great was it was saying a very simple message," says Wonder. "You can't stop wanting to hear that message. The whole thing of falling in love – the longing for, the wanting to be. I felt it was going to be song of the year, but worried that it was too simple. But everyone got it."

This past August, Wonder, Keys and guitarist Lenny Kravitz played together at the Video Music Awards on MTV. "Before I met her, I felt that what I was hearing in her voice, was in her heart," says Wonder. "That's important. You can sing well. You can play well, but the key is that you can feel her heart in it."

Rose first met Keys earlier this year, backstage at New York City's Madison Square Garden. She showed him her pre-show warm-up routine.

"I don't speak until about 6 o'clock. And then I start warming up. But before then, I don't use my voice," says Keys. "Anyways, then I come and I do some exercises. I do some stretching, and I do different exercises. Like chromatic scale. … It really trains my fingers."

"I'm very into what I do," adds Keys. "And many times as a performer, when I'm playing, I hear, this sounds strange, but I'm gonna tell ya, I hear voices in my head. I hear my own voice in my head sometimes."

Keys' father is black and her mother, Terry, is white. Terry raised her daughter alone in a tough New York City neighborhood called Hell's Kitchen. And she made sure music was always a part of her life. Keys started lessons at 7. "I think I had talent," says Keys. "It was more my desire. I wanted to play. I said, 'Go, girl, go.'"

Growing up, Keys was trained in classical music and was already writing pop songs when Columbia Records signed her to a contract at 16. That same year, Keys graduated from a performing arts high school, and was awarded a scholarship at Columbia University. It was there, she changed her last name from Cook to Keys.

"We were searching for a good description. A description of who I am and what I do. And we came up with a whole bunch of really bad names. Really bad," recalls Keys. "The worst was, this is bad. This is horrible: Alicia Wild. I mean, that sounds like a stripper."

Keys dropped out of college to focus on music, but she soon felt Columbia Records wasn't giving her the artistic freedom she needed.

"I wanted to be like a Marvin Gaye. I wanted to be like Prince. I wanted to be like Roberta Flack," says Keys. "After they completely trampled on me, and just stepped on me and rubbed their dirty feet on me, like 'You suck,' I said, 'Well, fine then. Then we're not on the same page and I don't suck. You suck. And I'm gonna go somewhere where somebody likes me.'"

Her next stop was a meeting with music producer Clive Davis. Davis bought out her contract with Columbia and immediately signed the 18-year-old singer. In June 2001, they released "Songs in A Minor." Her second album, "The Diary of Alicia Keys" was released in 2003.

One element of Keys' success is her work ethic. She has toured internationally almost non-stop this year, playing 40 shows in 22 countries. 60 Minutes caught up with her in Lisbon, Portugal. That night, Keys opened for Sting, and they met before she went on stage. It was one of the largest crowds she has ever played for – more than 100,000 people – at the Rockin' Rio music festival.

This fall, Keys has a book coming out of her poetry and song lyrics. Keys wouldn't tell 60 Minutes who those lyrics were about, but she was kind enough to perform one last song.

How do you end a show like that? "Thank you for joining us," says Keys, laughing. "See you next time."
  • Rebecca Leung

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.