No holding back for Alicia Keys on "Freedom"

Fri Nov 6, 2009 10:25pm EST
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By Gail Mitchell

LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - An unseasonal gust of wind greets Alicia Keys as she steps out of a doorway behind a Beverly Hills hotel on a late October afternoon. Decked out in a black leather vest and black leggings brightly accented by turquoise suede knee-high boo a hint of matching eyeliner, the Grammy Award-winning singer is surprised by the chilly blast before she ducks into a waiting black sport utility vehicle. Commenting on the wind's force, she laughs when it's suggested the quick dust-up is a forecast of the whirlwind activity cranking up on behalf of her latest studio album, "The Element of Freedom."

On this particular afternoon, the singer/songwriter/producer/musician was being whisked off to CBS Studios to perform her second single, "Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart," for an episode of "Dancing With the Stars" that will air November 17. From there, she hopped on the freeway -- in rush hour traffic -- to neighboring Long Beach, California, where she spoke at California first lady Maria Shriver's annual Women's Conference and closed the event with a rendition of her hit "Superwoman."

Superwoman indeed. That same night Keys boarded a plane home to New York to prepare for her and Jay-Z's rocking Yankee Stadium performance of "Empire State of Mind" during Game 2 of the World Series. Just two weeks prior, Keys hosted her sixth annual Black Ball at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom, where among the 1,000 guests were Chris Martin, John Mayer and David Bowie. The benefit was for the nonprofit AIDS organization the singer co-founded, Keep a Child Alive, which helps families in Africa and India -- and it raised $2.4 million. Between all this, the indefatigable artist launched a new company, AK Worldwide -- prepping a new Web site and jewelry line as part of that endeavor -- and recorded additional music for "The Element of Freedom," her fifth album.

Originally slated for December 1 (World AIDS Day), the MBK Entertainment/J Records project is now set for worldwide release December 15.

Using more viral marketing this time, J Records alerted fans to the project's lost-love lead single, "Doesn't Mean Anything," through announcements on "Live With Regis and Kelly," MTV, BET and various blogs including "Doesn't" is No. 14 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. On its heels is "Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart." Keys performed both songs during her "The Element of Freedom: The Lecture & Performance Series" October 21 at New York University's Skirball Center.

Upcoming performances by the singer include the American Music Awards (November 22), the "Today" show's outdoor concert series (November 24), the U.K. program "The X Factor" (November 29), the "Christmas at Rockefeller Center" special (airing December 2), a headlining stint at the 2009 Cayman Jazz Festival (December 3-5), "Late Show With David Letterman" (December 14) and "The View" (December 16).

When Billboard caught up with Keys again in early November, the tireless superwoman was finally "taking a small respite" for a few days before the promotional juggernaut kicks into gear. "Music is my first love," she says. "But what drives me is the excitement and challenge of trying new things, stretching myself creatively on as many different levels as possible."

Billboard: Why did you decide to go back into the studio to record more songs?   Continued...

<p>Alicia Keys performs at the Women's Conference 2009 in Long Beach, California October 27, 2009. REUTERS/Phil McCarten</p>