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Arts

Kam Williams
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(Photo: courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox)

Alicia Keys burst on the scene in April 2001 with the release of “Fallin’,” the first single from “Songs in A Minor,” the critically acclaimed debut album that launched her meteoric rise. A piano prodigy who studied both jazz and classical composition at the prestigious Professional Performance Arts School of Manhattan, she was admitted to Columbia University at just 16 years of age, but soon took a leave to pursue a music career that has netted 11 Grammys, along with multiple American Music, Billboard, Soul Train, Teen Choice, People’s Choice, NAACP Image, Rolling Stone, VH1 and BET awards.

A true Renaissance woman, Keys (born Alicia Augello Cook) is a gifted singer, songwriter, arranger, musician and actress, as well as the author of the best-selling “Tears for Water,” a book comprised of poetry, lyrics and intimate reflections.

She’s taken her talents to Hollywood in recent years, making her big screen debut as a ruthless and seductive assassin in 2006’s “Smokin’ Aces,” an explosive turn that she followed with a measured performance as Scarlett Johansson’s best friend in “The Nanny Diaries.”

Melding her music and movie careers together, Keys is about to make cinematic history as half of the first duet ever to perform the theme to a James Bond movie. She and Jack White of the White Stripes teamed up for “Another Way to Die,” the theme for the upcoming “Quantum of Solace,” in theaters Nov. 14.

Despite her busy schedule, Keys makes time for philanthropic work with numerous charities, most notably Keep a Child Alive, an organization dedicated to delivering life-saving medicines directly to AIDS victims in Africa. Keys — who co-founded the charity — will join some very famous friends to perform at The Fifth Annual Black Ball, a benefit dinner/concert for Keep a Child Alive to be held at New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom.

The talented performer recently took a few moments to speak to the Banner about her songs, the big screen, the presidential election and her latest film, “The Secret Life of Bees,” a touching tale of female empowerment set in the 1960s at the height of the civil rights movement.

I feel terrible, because it’s so late and I understand you’re in Germany and you just came offstage after performing a big concert. You must be exhausted.

Yes, and you should feel awful! (laughs) No, I’m good, I’m definitely good. I had a good show, and it takes me a little while to settle down anyway.

Well, I wanted to talk to you about “The Secret Life of Bees.”

I loved this movie, so I want to do this.

There’s a scene early in the picture where a character silently opens up a tiny, folded piece of paper that says something about the civil rights movement. When I read it, I started crying right then and there, and my eyes remained watery until the very end.

Wow! Well, I’m so glad that it moved you, because it moved me, too.