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Alicia Keys Grew up without a Dad after He Abandoned Her — Meet the Singer's Mother Who Raised Her Alone

Junie Sihlangu
May 13, 2022
04:53 A.M.
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Alicia Keys was raised by a single parent when her father left her as a young child. Her mother had dreams of her own but set them aside to create the powerhouse that Keys is today; let's get to know Terria Joseph.


Alicia Keys was only 12-years-old when she joined New York's Professional Performing Arts School. After her classical piano teacher told her he had nothing left to show her jazz piano, she entered the school.

Keys studied dance and voice, and in 1996, she graduated first in her class two years early! At age 16, she received a scholarship to study at Columbia University, but she already had a recording contract.

Alicia Keys in an unspecified photo, circa 2000. | Source: Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


After a month of schooling, Keys dropped out to expand her singing career under Columbia Records. She appeared on "Men In Black" soundtracks and on "Shaft's" remake.

However, her first album, "Songs In A Minor," was what placed her on the top of the charts in 2001. In December 2003, the star followed up the success of her first album with her second one, "The Diary Of Alicia Keys."

Alicia Keys singing and playing the piano onstage on February 7, 2002, in Chicago, Illinois. | Source: Paul Natkin/WireImage/Getty Images


The album jumped to the top of the US Billboard chart without stalling! Keys once confessed that the early years of her career were "priceless moment[s]" and described it as a first kiss that never could be repeated.

In 2005, she backed her success by winning a whopping four Grammy Awards for her work! However, before she became Alicia Keys, the star was just an average child who grew up without a father. 



In 2004, Keys was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey for the media mogul's O Magazine. When Winfrey asked the singer if her parents separated when she was just two, Keys told the television personality that they were "never really together."

The musician explained how she was raised by a single mother, Terria Joseph, who struggled with her alone. Keys' mother worked nonstop at two to three jobs, getting home at 3 a.m. and then waking up again to work three hours later.


The star grew up in a neighborhood that had sex workers everywhere. Seeing women working the street corners during the cold season in December made her vow never to go down that route no matter how tough things got. 

During The Guardian's 2020 interview, Keys opened up about one of her singles, "Underdog," that she co-wrote with Ed Sheeran for her latest album, "Alicia." In the song, she spoke up about her upbringing.


The artist mentioned how hustlers traded at bus stops while single mothers waited for their cheques to arrive. Revealing how those lyrics related to her, Keys explained:

“I am that person. The one that wasn’t supposed to make it out of Hell’s Kitchen, who was supposed to end up being a [sex worker], a young mother at 16 years old, or addicted to [illegal substances]."


Joseph's daughter mentioned how she was meant to be at the wrong place at the wrong time so she could get hurt or killed. Dreams were luxuries for people like her mother, who had to put food on the table for their children and pay bills. 

Keys shared that her life experience made her understand what it meant to have strength in following one's chosen path. She said all the songs she wrote, considered uplifting or empowering, were written at her lowest point.

Terria Joseph and Alicia Keys at the Harlem School of the Arts 50th anniversary kickoff on October 5, 2015, in New York City. | Source: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images


The singer knew she needed to find herself and never forget her complicated past. In 2020, Keys was a part of a Nickelodeon special on racism where one of the participants, Josephine, shared about growing up with mixed-race parents.

The girl revealed how a classmate once questioned if Josephine's mother was her babysitter because the parent had darker skin than her daughter. Keys shared her own prejudiced story, telling how people often mistook her mother for her babysitter or manager.

The questions came during the early stages of the singer's career, and it was because Joseph was white. However, Keys' mother played a much more significant role in her life than most people knew.



Terria Joseph at the Woodie King Jr's NFT New Federal Theatre 40th Reunion Gala Benefit Awards Presentation in New York City on May 22, 2011. | Source: Walter McBride/Corbis/Getty Images

Keys became the woman we know and love today because of the lone figure that stood by her side from the beginning. The woman who raised her into the glorious woman she was despite the odds.


Joseph initially experienced shock when she found out she was pregnant because she wasn't in a serious relationship and was casually dating. The star's mother even considered aborting the fetus that would become Keys.

Alicia Keys, Nick Ashford, and Terria Joseph pose for a photograph at Sugar Bar in New York City, on August 24, 2001. | Source: Diane L. Cohen/Getty Images


Keys' mother even went as far as booking an appointment to have the procedure! However, she decided otherwise despite the child's father, Craig Cook, never participating in any pregnancy processes. 

When Keys was six, Joseph thought Cook had had a change of heart and now wanted to be with her and create a family. However, he returned to his previous girlfriend and left Joseph to fend for their child. 

Alicia Keys and Terria Joseph at the Keep A Child Alive's 7th annual Black Ball on September 30, 2010, in New York City. | Source: WireImage/zgetty Images


Before Joseph became pregnant, she got compliments from her dance teacher and was encouraged to learn acting. Keys' mother moved to New York and was determined to become a Broadway star.

Joseph managed to get some jobs as an actress and once worked with Morgan Freeman. However, she failed to get her big break and ended up supporting herself and her daughter through paralegal work.


By 2022, besides being her daughter's biggest supporter, Joseph helped co-found YourMomCares. The organization supports children who struggle with mental health issues.

The company was co-founded alongside Beanie Feldstein and Jonah Hill's mother, Sharon Feldstein, and Adam Levine's mother, Patsy Noah. Keys has never missed an opportunity to praise her mother for her amazing spirit at every chance.



On May 9, 2021, Keys celebrated her mother's birthday by sharing a gorgeous Instagram image of them posing together while laughing at an event. In the post's caption, the singer described Joseph as a beautiful and extraordinary woman before adding:

"Your life is so precious to me. You gave me everything. I owe you everything."


The artist described her parent as smart, fun, and intelligent, capable of making her better, laugh, and everything she was today. Keys concluded by sharing her adoration for Joseph and wished her the best year.

In 2015, the musician was honored at the Harlem School of the Arts' 50th Anniversary Gala and took some time to praise her mother. Keys noted how the honor belonged to Joseph, whom she couldn't thank enough.


She thanked her parent for playing Dinah Washington and Ella Fitzgerald on vinyl on Sundays. The star showed gratitude to Joseph for being a mother, a best friend, a father, and her biggest fan even before she became famous. 

The singer became quite emotional as she thanked her mother for being her example of loyalty, dedication, dreams, determination, kindness, womanhood, compassion, and reciprocity.


Keys thanked Jospeh for everything she was because without her mother; she wouldn't have had her soul, love, will, versatility, or strength. The songstress noted that she wouldn't have existed "actually and artfully" without Joseph.

During her Winfrey interview, Keys confessed that she knew her mother would always be there if things fell apart for her. Praising Jospeh further, the musician shared the type of bond they had, saying:

"She has given me something real to hold on to. She's so strong. When I was younger, there were times when I'd look at her and think, 'Wow, it's just you and me.'"



In May 2020, Keys made peace with her father despite being abandoned and facing hardships without him. The star posted her letter to him on her Instagram account, revealing how she'd written it because she was hurt over what Cook did to her and Joseph.

[Alicia] Keys liked that she and her father [Craig Cook] had the option of seeing their evolution.

The letter was written when Keys was in her teens and wanted nothing to do with him. Her words had come from a place of longing and vulnerability after receiving empty promises from Cook.


The star had sworn, at the time, that she didn't care but was deeply affected by the abandonment. Keys was surprised that her father had kept the letter and was shocked when he first showed it to her. 

Cook had tucked it away in a shoe box, leaving his daughter glad that he did. When she looked back at it, she saw it as a sign of how far they'd come and urged her fans to share their challening relationships, adding:

"I think it’s so powerful that relationships have their own path. And sometimes they are meant to heal..."


Keys noted how healing came from letting go. ⁣In her 2021 YouTube Docuseries, "Noted: Alicia Keys The Untold Stories," the singer shared how proud she was of the relationship she'd built in adulthood with Cook.

The star said she was proud to show how different relationships could evolve with time to become fulfilling, even if they'd hurt at one point. Keys liked that she and her father had the option of seeing their evolution.⁣