As an actress herself, Alicia Keys’ mom, Terria Joseph, inspired her daughter's love of music and performing
No one can take credit for Alicia Keys’ talented voice except Keys herself. But her mastery of piano? That credit goes to her mother, Terria Joseph.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, Joseph, born Terria Augello, moved from Ohio to New York City to pursue her dream of being an actress.
Keys told O Magazine in a 2004 interview that her mother and father were “never really together” and that Joseph worked two or three jobs to make ends meet and help her daughter pursue her dreams.
The Scottish-Italian single mom enrolled the “Diary” singer in piano lessons when she was 7. Even when Keys begged her to drop the lessons because they didn't have much money, Joseph refused.
"She's so strong," Keys told O Magazine at the time. "When I was younger, there were times when I'd look at her and think, 'Wow, it's just you and me.' "
So, who is Alicia Keys' mom? Here's everything to know about Terria Joseph and her relationship with the singer.
She was born in Detroit
According to Keys' 2020 memoir More Myself: A Journey, Joseph was born in Detroit to Donna Jean and Joseph "Little Joe" Augello in 1950. She was the fourth born of nine children.
Keys' grandmother was an accomplished pianist and vocalist. Her grandfather was a disc jockey who moved the family to Toledo, Ohio, when Joseph was 6 years old, according to the latter's IMBD bio. When he died of cardiac arrest six years later, all of the children who could work got jobs to help support the family.
"Throughout junior high and high school, my mother weeded yards, worked at the National Biscuit Company, even painted backstops at the baseball field," Keys wrote in her book. "In her quiet moments, scarce as they were, Mommy dreamed of taking the path her father had once chosen: a career in the arts."
She moved to New York City to pursue acting
Joseph fell in love with dancing and acting when she younger, and after graduating high school, she was accepted into New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and moved to the big city. During the 2015 Harlem School of the Arts Gala, Joseph spoke about how her artistic pursuits and interests shaped both her and her daughter’s lives.
“From the moment Alicia was born, I tried to juggle motherhood and my passion for acting, singing and dancing,” she said in a speech at the event, per Variety. “Today, when I look at her, I see that my taking her to Broadway musicals via the half-priced ticket line, my dragging her to both my rehearsals and her auditions or ballet classes or piano lessons … must have inspired her!”
She has talked about her relationship with motherhood
In Keys' 2020 memoir More Myself: A Journey, Joseph wrote about finding out she was pregnant with Keys. She had only been on three dates with Cook and was thinking about moving to Los Angeles for more acting opportunities. Though she considered an abortion, she ultimately decided to keep her baby.
"I got pregnant — with protection," she wrote. "People want to come through, don't they? And if you're the vessel, you'd better accept it."
Keys told PEOPLE in 2020 that writing about her own struggle of deciding whether or not to move forward with her second pregnancy made her feel closer to her mother's story.
“It wasn’t until writing this that I realized, ‘Oh s—, she chose me’, even through all the difficulties,” Keys said. “How would she ever know what I was brought here to do? In a way we are parallel, but I didn’t even know that.”
She raised Keys in Hell's Kitchen
Joseph and Keys called one of Hell’s Kitchen home for most of the musician's childhood. The native New Yorker told O Magazine that her mom got by as a paralegal and worked "around the clock."
Despite the hardships, Joseph was determined to provide for her daughter and support her talents. So when a friend gave them an old, upright piano, she insisted Keys learn how to play it.
"That gift is one of the main reasons I'm playing today," she told the publication. "I wrote my first song — a tune about my grandfather, my Fa-Fa, who'd passed away — on that piano."
Keys said her mother was strict
In Keys' neighborhood, trouble was always right around the corner. The singer wrote in her 2020 book that while she excelled in academics — graduating high school at 16 — she rebelled. As much as her mother would allow, anyway.
“At any one of the shops on the street around the corner from our apartment a kid could get anything: a fake ID (like the one I used to sneak into a club called Tunnel), a fistful of blunts (I smoked my share), a pack of condoms (which led to the used one that somehow got lost under the couch on the afternoon I lost my virginity)," she wrote. "My mother had to be strict as a matter of my survival.”
She was often mistaken for Keys' manager
Keys' mother is Scottish-Italian, and her father is Black. According to Business Insider, the singer said during a 2020 Nickelodeon special on racism that her mother was often mistaken for her manager or her babysitter in the early days of her career. Keys explained at the time that her mother would swiftly correct those who assumed she wasn't Alicia's mom.
In her memoir, More Myself the singer wrote that, “Thankfully, race was never a part of what made me feel guarded,” when she was growing up with her mom in New York City, and shared words her mom had spoken to her in order to reassure her of her value.
“You’re the best of both worlds,” my mother would often remind me. And she was right. Yet since my mother understood that America would compel me to choose, she raised me with an awareness that’s still intact: I am a Black girl.”
She's an actress
Joseph has continued to act in various projects both on stage and in front of the camera. In 2021, she posted on Instagram about her one-woman show that she wrote and starred in, and she's also played small roles in shows like Empire, per IMDB.
In December 2023, Keys made her debut as a Broadway producer with the musical Hell's Kitchen, which is inspired by her childhood growing up in N.Y.C. She told The New York Times that the show is a long-time dream she's shared with Joseph.
“We get to announce the ultimate dream — the dream that my mother chased from a little girl, that brought her here, which is the reason why I’m here, which is the reason why this city raised me, and the reason why I can even tell this story,” the singer said.
She's a grandmother
Keys and her husband, rapper and producer Swizz Beatz, share two children together, Egypt Daoud, 13, and Genesis Ali, 9. Beatz also has three children — Prince Nasir, Kasseem Jr. and Nicole — from a previous relationship.
Joseph occasionally shares photos of her grandchildren on Instagram and has been seen attending big family events like birthdays. For Genesis' 7th birthday in 2021, Keys shared a video of Joseph with herself and her children as they sang Genesis "Happy Birthday."
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