Alicia Keys

Unleashing keys: Alicia Keys serenades Gammage this Friday.

Alicia Keys is so 2001's Lauryn Hill: a young, beautiful, smart African-American woman with more talent than the white critical community knows how to handle, pushed to the lip of the mainstream media stage by editors and producers grateful for the chance to chip away at their guilt over never taking Mary J. Blige seriously enough. Is that a cynical interpretation of the rise of a personality who may or may not have made the transition from misunderstood artist to cornrowed cause célèbre without the support of the radio/print/TV axis? Indubitably. But that doesn't mean it's not a little true, especially of a business as cynical as the music industry. Yet Keys has performed admirably in the middle of a hurricane that is about far more than her acclaimed debut record, last summer's rich, accomplished Songs in A Minor. She continued to play a remarkable number of live shows even after walking away with five Grammy awards in February — including one for Best New Artist — taking the crucial time to hone her craft rather than recline into her SoundScan figures. That's a rare treat for fans of live R&B hardened to the reality of most major-label promotional campaigns — and shows us exactly why Keys will outlive the hype around her, however well-meaning it may be.

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