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July 16, 2020 25 mins

On this very special episode of Family Secrets, Dani speaks with singer-songwriter Alicia Keys about living unapologetically, making art without compromise, and the women who kept her grounded when she became a household name at just 20 years old—her mother and her grandmother. (Alicia’s memoir, More Myself: A Journey, is out now.)

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
Family Secrets as a production of I Heart Radio. I'm
Danny Shapiro and this is a very special bonus episode
of Family Secrets. I love every single one of my
guests on Family Secrets, but I have to say this

particular guest and conversation blew me away. I learned so
much from to get ready for it, the extraordinary, brilliantly gifted,
strong and powerful human being, Alicia Keys. Alicia, thank you

so much for joining me on Family Secrets. I'm just
honored and delighted to have you on as a as
a special guest. I couldn't be more excited too. I'm
very happy to speak to you. So I started this
podcast after having discovered my own family secrets and after
a lifetime of writing about them without knowing why. And

I realized how much we hide from ourselves and what
liberation can happen when we speak to our deepest truth.
And your journey, which you tell so beautifully in your
new book More Myself, seems to explore so clearly this
path towards deeper knowing, which is of course a lifetime's work,

and it kept on striking me as I was reading
your book that it's a spiritual journey that you take
us on. Would you agree with that? M wow, Um,
absolutely absolutely, because I think it's the deepest uncovering, finding
your way to yourself and your truth and and that

is a spiritual process. That's like an opening and revelation,
a searching of seeking um a rawness. So yeah, I do.
And I think even even more so the confidence to
try to see yourself and to be brave enough to

look at it and hear yourself and all those things
that I personally have found, um is part of what
I'm learning more and more and demanding of myself. So yeah,
I love that idea of being a spiritual journey for sure.
Given the moment that we're having this conversation, there's a
really brief passage in your book that I just want

to read. It's fairly early on, and you're right, nothing
but uncertainty is certain circumstances come together only to fall
apart moments or months later, and then in a flash,
we must rise up and regain our footing. In the
rear view mirror, I now see so clearly what escaped me.
Then It's not that the ground underneath me was suddenly shifting.

It's that it's never ill. That's part of the work
of my journey getting comfortable with life's groundlessness. Yeah, that
is so true. It's wild when we have our own
words kind of like spoken back to us, it's like, yeah,
that's right, it is so true. I mean, I think

about that so much, even in the context of as
as we are all discovering who we are and figuring
out who we are and finding you know, our base
and our truths and and and all of these things,
and especially me as I'm discovering that it's always shifting
and it's always kind of coming back to me UM,

demanding to know if I actually learned the lesson or
if I can just recited well. And that's a really
big one because a lot of times I find that
I'll be tested, and we'll all be tested in these
small ways, UM, especially tested about will I choose myself,
Will I be willing to say more nose, Will I

be willing to understand and and really listen to myself
internally and and and be comfortable with what I think
as opposed to looking for the validation from the outside
world or from people I trust, even um and and
and these tests they keep coming back to me and
coming back to me. And sometimes you know, Danny, I

I don't do that well, and I'm like, damn, there,
I did it again. I already know this. Why am
I finding myself in this place? And sometimes I really
do get it and I say, no, that's not what
I need to do right now. And I'm very strong
and clear and it's crystal, and I'm so proud because
I didn't have to second gather doubt or whatever. But

it is definitely always the shift. It's always shifting. I
think we're always learning something new. We're always being asked
to remember what we already know um and and do
it some more. Uh So it is for sure, that
is so true. Thanks for reading that. I think your
your book speaks to that so beautifully because no one
of the things that struck me as I was reading it,

I was thinking, you know, I would be immersed in
these life lessons whether this book was written by Alicia
Keys or not. You know, like it wasn't you. You
you write at one point, fame for the sake of
fame has never been the dream. But spreading light is
a pleasure I'll always live for. And that's what your

story feels like to me, it's and it also strikes
me that that's part of what's allowed you to become
you again and again and again over the course of
your life thus far, is that spreading light is what
keeps us honest and open and moving out of ourselves

and into the deepest parts of ourselves but not into
like what the world is looking for are from us?
And you know, you you cover the span of your
life pretty much from your childhood growing up in New
York City to pretty close to the present. And one

of the things that it seems like it's about to
me is when you became hugely famous really young, and
there's this really sweet moment where you know, you're you're
twenty years old and you've just been on Oprah and
you've played on Oprah's you know, sort of massive stage,

and you fly home and somebody recognizes you in the
airport and you think, do I know you? Oh? No,
Like I'm actually just being recognized. And then you're back
in your neighborhood and you're in your mom's neighborhood and
you're you're you're walking around and you write something like
I was probably out like going to the to the
fake I d place because I wasn't twenty one yet.

And it's like so often people who are told who
they are by the world, or that they're great, that
they have greatness, or that they have a great gift
when they're that young can't handle it, you know, can't
lose themselves or never have a chance to find themselves.

And yours is a story of finding yourself over and
over again. And I'm just wondering, how what do you
think gave you the inner compass to do that, to
just keep your feet on the ground. Wow, Oh man,
you know there's so many parts of that that that
that just brought up for me. Um, even the part

where it was you know, over has been such a
beautiful mentor to so many of us in the world
because we you know, even before I knew her personally,
she was a you know, somebody that I that I
looked up to and that I thought such a powerful
force from good. And that was the first person that
I actually recognized. I remember being so clear seeing her

and realizing that you could not only be in a
extremely powerful business person, but also on a side of good.
And I think so many times we witnessed people who
are very, very successful. Um, and I don't know, you know,
it's like kind of by any means necessary cutthroat. You know,
they'll just like do whatever they have to do to

follow the dollar. The dollar is king, and and and
obviously that doesn't lead us in any good place, which
is you know, I think a lot of what we're
flowing now as a as a global family just recognizing, um,
the different unfairnesses that we're seeing all around us, and
so a lot of that is all is always led
by greed. So so I think that was such a
powerful recognition for me and so to be able to

meet her and perform on her show, and for her
to embrace my song, and and then to come back
to my neighborhood and come back on the plane, and
for people to actually be recognizing me and and have
been touched by that moment. I remember I actually distinctly
not only do that film them a great pride, of course,
an excitement because whoa who would have ever imagined and

the these things that you dream about and when they
start to come to fruition, you can't believe it. But
I also remember becoming very self conscious, very self conscious,
and almost um to the place where I always wanted
to hide, And I do believe that that's the beginning
of some of the ways that I started to kind
of tucked myself away and and put on what I've

definitely referred to as an armor. And that's saying that
we just kind of that wall, that feel that we
put on so that we can get through the day
and and kind of not exposed to much of ourselves personally,
and and to be able to just kind of handle everything.
And and I know that for a lot of my life,

I've been unwinding that armor, that steel, that wall. Um
that I think was a direct result of that kind
of immediate attention that I just I didn't know how
to handle it, and I it was just a girl
from Hell's Kitchen and Harlem, and man, I didn't know
what to do with is so um. So I think

that in a way that it is something that I've
also been unwinding for myself. But I think the way
I was able to keep my feet some you know,
on the ground through it all also was because of
this almost desire to stay normal whatever, to be a

normal human being who could actually you know, just it's
who I've always been, who have always been I didn't
want that to be taken away from me. I didn't
want to not recognize myself. I was I think I
was very afraid of not being able to recognize myself,
to the point where I stifled my growth in a
lot of ways because I just wanted to recognize the

person I've always known. But that's impossible because they're growing,
and we have to grow, and we should allow ourselves
to grow, and we shouldn't meet the new parts of ourselves.
And that's only something that I recognize now, many years later. Um.
So it's so amazing how all these things kind of
happened at one time and later you kind of see
what it's all for. And I think the real reason

I was able to be grounded is because my mother
is so such a little firecracker, Like she is so phenomenal,
and she's always just she raised me a single mother,
and you know, there's a certain and you know, there
was just a certain humbleness that was had to be
just because that's the way that we live in the
circumstances we were in. And she was always big on like, well,

how do you think that makes somebody else feel? And
you know, would you want to be treated like that,
and she would always give me these big, big ideas,
these big lessons, these golden rules, these things that would
stuck stuck with me a lot, And I think that
was how I was able to stay on the ground
and stay very grounded because of her guidance in the

way that she was very honest in law and even
when things started going she you know, she couldn't be
less impressed. You wanted to do that. People were taking
advantage of me, you know, because I was a kid
of sixteen seventeen, you know, so so um and I
get it. So it's it's I think she's a big
part of how I was able to stay in that

grounded space. We'll be back in a moment with more
family secrets. The part of your book it maybe actually
get a little cheery. Your wise Nana, your father's mother,
and the way that you describe her UM actually really

reminded me. I've in my work, I've written a lot
about an elderly aunt of mine, my aunt Shirley, who's
now and the wisdom like the the the kind of pure,
unadulterated wisdom just filter down to you by your grandmother
who Um, who loved you so much and who you loved.

And we don't need a lot of people like that
in our lives, but we need, you know, one or
two if we're lucky, that give us that sense of
um And would you would you say that that Nana
also was part of that grounding for you? Oh my gosh,
so much. You know. One of my favorite things people
tell me is that I'm so much like my Nanna.

And when people tell me that, like that our spirits
are similar and that we even look similarly, it's the biggest,
biggest compliment that I can ever be given, because to me,
she was everything, just everything. She just invited, you know,
she just embodied such a kindness, such a thoughtfulness, such
a spirit of soul. Is not a person that didn't

know her the way that she walked in alone, she
filled it. She filled the whole room that she she
every kid on the street team, every kid at the school.
She was you know, she was that involved. You know,
I remember all the time coming in being a bed
or her. The kitchen's table was filled with cards that
she was sending card this that she was sending to

people to remember an event, to remember an occasion, to
tell them that she loved them, Like these things that
she would just do was just you know, that spirit
that was so president and so thoughtful and and so
to me. She I learned so much from her. I
just that strength that she had in a way that
she was like a leader in those ways, and and

and such a giver, you know, like a lover. So um, definitely,
I think she also came to the ground in this
especially that time which I don't even know, No, I
don't even think I wrote this in the book. When
I Um, she told me we were going to like
church or something, and she was bringing me somewhere special.
She was bringing me, and she put me in it's
really pretty dressed and she told me, you know, I said,

I'm going outside. She's like, do not get distress dirty.
And I was playing with my friends and we were
jumping over a thing and I didn't lize that like
the the hose had prayed the dirt and the dirt slippery.
And when I jumped over the thing we were jumping over,
I slipped in my shoes and my white dress and
I found them mud and exactly what she told me
not to do happen. And I went back in the

house and I know she was so upset at me.
She was so upset at me because she specifically told
me don't get dirty, and she just looked at me,
and that look crushed me harder then if she yelled
and screamed and you know, flapped the back of my hand.
It crushed me so hard to disappoint her, you know,

more than any type of physical anything that she could
have done. And again, such a testament to that shrink
to that, like, you know what what that does to you,
that that that beautiful poise that she she had well
and definitely locked of life lessons that she gave me too.
So she was another big part of my ground and

a very important woman in my life that I think
showed me what a woman looks like. I love that
you said that people you know say to you that
that you you remind them of of your Nana. Because
one of the things that it felt like to me
was that the lessons, those life lessons that she transmitted
to you, um, you're transmitting in in in your through

your journey and in your story. Um. She you know,
there was a lot there about forgiveness and and there
are just these places where you, um, you really talk
to us. You know, you talked to the reader um
about these kind of universal values of um. You know

what it is to forgive, and she really urges you
to do that. You know that there there are more
important things, more important things than holding onto an old
story doesn't change the story. It just changes you and
hardens your heart. And it seems like so much of
the way that your growth has happened is about opening

your heart, not closing it, opening your palms not clenching them.
Mm hmmmmmmmm No, yes, see, totally. And and as she
you know, I thought that was it's so right, and
actually became you know, she passed away. She had cancer,
and as she became more sick, I remember, and I

spoke about this, and I'm sure we've all felt like
this in some way or another, but I remember being
quite upset that I didn't feel like I saw the
amount of people that I know that she wrote all
those letters and spent all this all this time and
energy and efforts with and and I you know, I
remember I felt a little bit frustrated, like where are they?

Where are they? And you know, even Craig, my father,
who was feeling now that I can be more empathetic
and understanding about how difficult you know, seeing your mother,
you know, the approaching a transition, you know, at death.
I didn't understand even he. I was like, where is he?

And I know now that that was so hard for
him to come to terms with. Um. You know, I've
learned a lot more grace and a lot more empathy
in the you know, over time and um. But she
she had this these thoughts and she knew already that,
you know, she was. She was so clear that you
you can't change people, You can't make people who you

want them to be. And I said, what are you
talking about? You gotta tell people what you think, and
how do they know if you don't tell them? And
you gotta you know, it's all and she's like, you
you can't. It's spending so much energy trying to do
something that may just disappoint you. And that's something I
never learned for a long time. And again, not to

get it confused. I do believe that you should express
your truth. And I don't think that just because you
may get disappointed means you should not express your truth
or should not do something that you deeply know you
need to. So I don't want it to get my construed.
But um, but there was a knowing like this wise

wisdom and knowing that people are as they are, and
if you can actually accept that, then you can decide
what to do with it. You can decide, you know what,
I that person is that way and I choose to
not interface with that person as much, or that person
is that way, and I'm okay with that because I
know they're like that, and I'm I can accept that.

Whatever you're gonna do with it, at least you can
choose what you want to do with it, as opposed
to you know, emotions taking you everywhere, you know, because
you want somebody to do what you want them to do.
So there's been so amazing. She still feed me all
the time. Yeah, I totally can imagine. We'll be right back.

I'd love to know a little bit about what was
the spark, like, what was the impetus? Um, it's not
like you don't have enough going on. What why did
you decide to share this journey in this way? And
I mean, at one point I think you compared it
to you know, it's creating an album takes a lot

of time and a lot of care and a lot
of thought about what belongs with what you know, which
is similar I think too writing a book book? What
made you I want to do it? Now? You know,
it's been a as you know, it's been a little
while since I actually had the thought to do it
has It takes on quite some time, right, far more

time than I possibly ever expected. So at the time
when I was first considering this idea, UM, it was
really right around the album that I put out called
Here and Here was a really this is the album
before the one that I'm putting out UM next, which

is called Alicia. But here Um was really a transformational
time for me, and it completely made me look at
myself in a way I never had before. And it
made me look at um the world in a way
that I never had before too. In regards to our

learned behaviors and our you know, the things that we
pick up from our parents, from the television, from all
of the all of the all the places that we
walk from the day that we're born. We start to
receive this information as narrative that you know, you were
talking about this a little bit ago, this story that

we create for ourselves and that we buy into. And
I've been through and call our truths and all these things,
and I was really starting to awaken to that and
understand that I wanted to redefine what that was for me,
and I was I realized that so many choices that
I was making, so many things I was doing, was
based off of um, you know me, kind of buying

into this ideal of many different things of what beauty
is of um, what success is of you know how,
and if it wasn't, if it's important or not to
be liked by many people, to please. For all these
ideas and things of who I was that I just
was starting to really challenge and I started to challenge

it through music, and I started to challenge it. Actually
remember very distinctly, and I wrote about this that I
wrote a list of ships that I was sick of
and the first time I ever wrote a list like that.
And I don't know if you've ever written a list
like that. Yeah, I think I think I need to
right away. You need to write this list. It was

so crazy because I think so much of our lives
we spend being so damn accommodating and so extra thoughtful.
We don't want to stay the wrong thing or do
the wrong thing. And so we keep our lists of
things that might make us so angry to ourselves, because
God forbid we make anybody angry, or we dissens in
our opinions or whatever. And so I was that me.

I was that the person I fight against being all
the time. And so and so I wrote this list
and it really started to clarify these feelings that I
had ignite, uh, just a word to put through it.
And I took that list and I translated it into
these songs that ended up becoming the Here album, which
is one of my all time favorite albums that I

ever did, because it was the first that I didn't compromise.
I didn't compromise my message. I didn't try to make
a bunch of songs that I was going to be commercial,
you know, radio friendly. I just wrote what I needed
to write. And it was such a liberation process, and
I found myself on my knees in the majority of
the time just giving thanks to even the ease from

which it came, because it was just so clear. So
so I think that that that process was what started
me to find more of who I actually am and
who I want to be, and how do I how
do I express that and how do I start to
define that for myself and break these um these oppressions

that kind of live over us that we you know,
don't even realize, stopping us from so much. And once
I started uncover that, that was when I think people
really saw it. People started to really take notice, and
and and that was when I realized that I had
something to share like this, because I could see the
evolution from that little girl um in health kitchen and

Harlem to this young woman who really started to make
my own definitions of myself. So so that's where I said,
you know what I before this, I would have never
considered in a book. I mean, who wants to do that?
And we go to exposing all of your vulnerable places
and you know those things and everything, like, who wants

to do that? That sounds that sounds crazy. But in
this with this new recognition, I knew I did want
to do it because I knew that it was something
that we were all trying to figure out. I hope
you'll come back tomorrow from part two of my conversation
with Alicia. For more podcasts for my heart radio, visit

the i Heart Radio app Apple Podcasts or wherever you
listen to your favorite shows.

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