You can just call Amy Keys the Renaissance Woman. There’s not too much Keys have not done in her lifetime already, and she believe she’s just getting started on her journey. Keys is a prolific songwriter. She’s got acting credits under her belt. She earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Maryland. She attended dental school at Howard University.
But what pays the bills these days for Keys is her ability to get up on stage and sing.
“I could not even image life without it,” Keys said in a telephone interview. “We always joke about it, but seriously, I get paid for the traveling and the packing of the bags and trying to get through traffic. I do the stuff that I do on stage for free. And I’ve done it for free. In fact, I did for free a lot. When I first started, to get myself out there and to hone my chops, whenever anybody would let me sing, I sang.”
Singing is something that Keys does well. Her vocal chops are second to none. When you consider the success that Keys has had in the music industry because of her rich diaphragm, that’s not an overreach. Because of her voice, Keys has been able to land gigs that include doing theme songs for television shows (City of Angels, Boomtown), films (Another 48 Hours, Brother Bear, Anchorman 2), as well as doing the NASCAR at NBC Super Bowl ad.
That’s a pretty impressive resume. However, that’s just scratching the surface of the inroads Keys have made inside the entertainment world. It’s hard to imagine a music genre without the raspy, deep-throated and booming voice of Keys in it. Phil Collins, Herbie Hancock, Al Green, Neil Young, and others, whom Keys has collaborated with, probably feel the same way.
Keys’ musical hookups read pretty much like a “Who’s Who” in the industry. Keys have worked with Stevie Wonder, Ringo Starr, Mary J. Blige, Natalie Cole, Leonard Cohen, and a host of other high-profile entertainers, including Chaka Khan and Tina Turner. Now she’s finally breaking out doing her own thing. Not that she hasn’t already done so, but Friday night (Dec. 7, 2018) at The Edye at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica, California, Keys will be front and center as the headliner.
“It’s pretty amazing. I performed there with [Rev.] Shawn Amos first,” Keys said. “I had heard about this space, and had seen it from afar, but never performed there. It’s an amazing space; really warm, beautiful live music space, especially at a time when Los Angeles has lost so many wonderful performing spaces, to still have something like The Edye and The Broad [Stage] there is invaluable.”
For all the success that Keys has bestowed on the world of music, she came this close to giving it all up when she contemplated finishing up dental school and land a nice paying job or hit up local clubs for singing gigs as she pursued her dreams. Coming from a father and mother who both worked in the medical field, the practicality of holding down a regular job as opposed to risk-taking on a not-so-sustainable profession, proved to be a big dilemma for Keys.
“I was in dental school for a period and was doing really well and decided that I had a choice to for one or the other because I was doing well,” Keys said. “It was tough, but I was enjoying it and it was like okay if I commit to this, I am going a thousand percent into the sciences and the dentistry, which I’ve always loved…or I go into music and give this at least give this a shot. So, I decided to do that.”
Ultimately, Keys went with her heart and guts and dropped out of dental school. She began singing at small venues. There were nights she was not paid. Then when she did get some money put in her pockets, a lot of nights it wouldn’t be enough to buy a pair of Air Jordan tennis shoes.
“I went to the registrar’s office and promptly left dental school and started working for $50 a night singing,” Keys said. “But in order to keep the lights on and food on the table, my degrees allowed me to work in a number of physicians and dentistry offices. So, I acted as an assistant and I also worked with their insurance claims department because of my biology background as well as my insurance background. Because I worked a bit for Blue Cross and Blue Shield, I was able to fit in a number of doctors’ offices. I even worked for a vet at one point.”
There are some people who can sing. Keys can go there and do a whole lot more with her vocal pipes. If you think this is nothing more than hyperbole, look Keys up on YouTube or search for her on Spotify and check out the power she brings when she belts out a song.
No one can outdo legendary crooner Donny Hathaway’s rendition of A Song for You, but Keys nails the song in a way that would make the late singer incredibly proud. As she tears into Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, Keys brings such vocal depths to the song that not even the originator can match.
Keys can sit back and whale with the best of them. However, Keys is a lot more than singer who is onstage and just letting loose and bellowing out lyrics without any substance behind them. There’s some sort of majestic touch to whatever song that Keys brings life to whenever she sings. Listening to Keys sing is akin to listening to the rich voice of the great Phyliss Hyman.
Keys, however, will point out that she believes perfecting her musical craftmanship comes indirectly from male artists such as Peabo Bryson and Luther Vandross.
“I’m sure the musicality come from my dad and some from my mom,” said Keys. “I would listen to songs over and over and over again until I could sing them identically to how the performer sung them. So, I sing loud. I have a pretty strong voice. What I like about that is that people will say that it is rich because I have a lot of mid-range and lower-register. There’s a lot of richness in my bottom or lower register. I kind of equate that to [that] I was more drawn to male vocalists than female vocalists. [I’m] not saying that I wasn’t drawn to female vocialists and that sound, just the richness and fullness of male vocalists…my gosh…Luther Vandross. That richness and fullness of the tenor and baritone and bass voices…I would imitate those voices. Peabo Bryson was a favorite of mine to try and imitate.”