I’ve been listening to Alicia Keys since I first heard “Fallin'” on the radio, and have collected all of her albums over the years. Her music is incredible, but I’ve also always admired her as a person. When she announced her memoir, More Myself: A Journey, in early 2019, I was thrilled. It’s now been nearly a year since it came out, but it was also just included as a December selection on Book of the Month. I read this version, though I plan to listen to the audiobook version later this year as well.
In More Myself: A Journey, Alicia Keys offers an honest and detailed account of her life, from her beginnings — and even those of her parents — through her decades of success in music. Growing up in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan, Alicia was exposed to a diverse community of people and a lot of music. She started playing piano from a young age, being trained in the classics by Beethoven, Chopin, and more. She also began expressing herself early on, composing music and writing lyrics with talent beyond her years.
From her humble beginnings, Alicia’s journey then progressed into professional music. After years of writing and recording, her first album, Songs in A Minor, came out in June 2001. But although she saw great success even then, Alicia was still growing, both as a woman and as an artist. Her memoir takes us through her music, her political activism, her relationships, and her journey to becoming more attuned with herself. More Myself is a candid memoir that fans of Alicia Keys will love. But even if you don’t listen to her music, it’s revealing, inspiring, and worth reading.
I’ll be honest: I haven’t read many memoirs. However, lately I’ve been getting into them more, and I’ve already read three this year. Right before starting More Myself, I revisited a memoir by another favorite singer of mine, Sara Bareilles. Like Alicia, Sara is a pianist and songwriter who released her first album in the 2000s. After rereading Sara’s book, Sounds Like Me: My Life (So Far) in Song, I was excited to dive into Alicia’s story.
More Myself is written in a very different style and format from Sounds Like Me, but it’s wholly authentic to who Alicia is. The book starts with brief, confessional moments that defined Alicia’s evolving understanding of herself and the world: the time when, just a child, Alicia asked her mom about why prostitutes didn’t dress more warmly; the time early in her career when she herself felt uncomfortable yet voiceless with a creepy photographer.
Following these vulnerable flashes from different times in her life, More Myself takes a step back, ready for a more thorough account, starting from the beginning. Alicia doesn’t just go back to her own childhood; she offers context by sharing some family history. Her mom, born into an Italian family in the midwest, lost her father when she was 12. Alicia’s dad, who was never a major part of her life, never knew his own dad, yet his mom and stepfather were largely involved with Alicia’s upbringing.
Alicia describes what it was like growing up in Hell’s Kitchen with just her mom. She was tomboyish but soon took a liking to piano. Before long, she started writing her own songs — music and lyrics — incorporating the classical training she received. By the time she was a teenager, Alicia was already a member of a musical group and shining bright enough to get her own record deal. She was also dating a man much older than her with a child of his own. This was a bit of a shock to me. Although I’ve long been a fan of Alicia’s music, I admittedly didn’t know much about her personal life or early start in music.
People who follow musicians closely will likely find the next chapter all too familiar: In the late 1990s, with an album completed, Alicia’s label tried to take away some of her creative control and have her record new material more likely to become a radio hit. Though it took longer to release her music, Alicia made the right choice by switching labels, buying back the rights to her masters, and releasing music that was authentic to her. Indeed, her first single “Fallin'” was a major hit, and her debut album, Songs in A Minor, was a massive success. Why, oh why, don’t music labels focus on the business side and just let the artists create? The artists are almost always right about which music will connect with their fans and thus bring success.
Throughout More Myself, Alicia shares details of how she wrote, recorded, and promoted her albums, from Songs in A Minor up through her 2016 album, HERE. (Her most recent album, ALICIA, came out last September, a few months after the book was first published.) Music fans will love getting an inside look at her writing process, how she worked with different writers and producers, and the different mindset she was in for each album.
However, beyond the music, Alicia also shares a lot of her personal journey to finding her own voice. It might sound ironic that a singer, who’s famous for her (singing) voice and her songs, has had to search so long for her inner voice, but it’s a journey so many of us will find familiar. I had no idea that Alicia took a solo vacation to Egypt in the mid-2000s, or that it was such a turning point in her mindset about work-life balance, the power of saying “no,” and finding more self-assurance. I had no idea about the self-doubt and struggles with image that Alicia faced.
In the past few years, Alicia has made headlines for her when she stopped wearing makeup all the time, and she explains the decision here. This is something I related to. When I was in high school, I felt ugly if I left the house without makeup. But as I’ve gotten older — starting around the end of college — I stopped caring so much. I look fine enough without makeup, and I shouldn’t feel bad about how my face naturally looks. I applaud Alicia for letting the world see her without makeup, including in photoshoots and on TV, and for speaking out about it.
Another major factor in Alicia’s life is her recent meditation practice. She describes the inner turmoil she frequently felt until she started meditating each morning. So many of us are searching for a sense of peace and assurance, and it’s inspiring to hear how she found it. Meditation is something I’m just getting into myself, though I don’t know how I’ll ever have as much discipline as Alicia!
For many years, Alicia has also used her fame and money for good. She talks about starting the Keep a Child Alive Foundation, her activism to save children in Africa. She also freely speaks about her political activism in the United States, her support of certain candidates and abhorrence of others, her support of people’s rights, and how these opinions have made their way into her music. I appreciated getting a look into Alicia’s political standing and action.
Alicia is also candid about her relationships — with her parents, with romantic partners, with friends, and with her children. She divulges the fraught relationship with her dad, how she essentially cut him off as a teenager, and how they’ve only gotten on better terms in her adulthood. Alicia talks about her first longterm boyfriend, a man who was her creative partner and with her in the first decade of her career. She also gushes about her husband, with whom she writes music and has two children. (She’s also a step-mother to his children from previous relationships.)
Each chapter of More Myself begins with a quote from someone who knows Alicia, from her family members to celebrities she’s connected with. You’ll recognize big names like Oprah Winfrey and Bono, but we also hear from her parents and musical collaborators. These quotes preview the theme of each chapter and offer a fuller look at Alicia Keys and her life.
More Myself is an engrossing memoir that is confessional, revealing, and inspiring. All fans of Alicia Keys should read it, but even if you’re a casual listener, it offers a lot of interesting takeaways. It’s added greatly to my understanding of the woman behind the music, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy her music all the more.
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