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Keys Opens "Diary" in L.A.

Wonder, Elliott, Aiken take in songstress

November 20, 2003 12:00 AM ET

Alicia Keys' debut album Songs in A Minor caught on in a big way with a listening public anxious to embrace a young entertainer who could both play an instrument (piano) and sing. On Wednesday at the Highlands in Hollywood, Keys took to her piano bench to promote her upcoming follow-up, The Diary of Alicia Keys.

Dressed in a spangly jacket and jeans, Keys offered a sneak preview of the album that drops December 2nd, before an audience that included Stevie Wonder, Missy Elliott Clay Aiken, Ruben Studdard and Jermaine Dupri.

"Let's take it back," said Keys as an introduction. On a stage lit by clusters of white candles on black wrought iron stands, Keys weaved favorites from her debut such as the runaway hit "Fallin,'" "Rock Wit U," and "A Woman's Worth," into her nine-song set.

Playing it coy before newbie "If I Ain't Got You," Keys teased the crowd, saying "This song means a lot to me, but I'm not gonna talk about it." Sticking to spare arrangements, Keys led with her piano and vocals and used the bass, guitar, drums, keyboard and the three back-up singers in her band as accents, like the occasional group harmony or the short blast of distorted guitar in "Streets of New York."

Keys abandoned the piano for the set closer and album single "You Don't Know My Name," standing up to introduce R&B singers the Moments and joining them at the front of the stage to lead the crowd in a staccato "soul clap." "I want to take this back to the time when harmonies were sweet," she said.

Last night's performance begins a two-week run of promotion that will include a November 24th interview on Primetime Live, several features on Good Morning America, a December 1st appearance on Oprah and back-to-back performances on the The Tonight Show, December 4th and 5th.

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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