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Alicia Keys Talks Bringing ‘Magic’ to ‘If I Ain’t Got You’ With All-Female Orchestral Cover: ‘This Is What Our Ancestors Never Experienced’

When Bridgerton first hit Netflix back in 2020, it captivated audiences not only with its stunning Regency-era visuals and romantic storylines, but also with its gorgeous orchestral covers of pop songs that seamlessly connected the characters to its modern viewers.

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Now, the show’s recently released prequel series, Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, is following in the same musical footsteps by transforming songs from Beyoncé, SZA, Whitney Houston and, most notably, Alicia Keys. The 15-time Grammy-winning superstar’s 2003 hit, “If I Ain’t Got You,” got an orchestral rearrangement from the Vitamin String Quartet for the series’ soundtrack, but Netflix teamed up with Keys for another incredibly special musical moment.

To celebrate Queen Charlotte and the power of women worldwide, Keys brought together more than 70 female musicians from all over the world — from South Africa, Barbados and Germany to Sweden and Egypt — to create a first-of-its-kind global orchestra made up entirely of women of color. Together, the Queen Charlotte’s Global Orchestra delivered a captivating rendition of “If I Ain’t Got You” to celebrate the song’s 20th anniversary.

Queen Charlotte's Global Orchestra, Alicia Keys

Tyler Twins

“The entire idea was quite ambitious,” Keys tells Billboard with a laugh, adding that Netflix was excited to take on the challenge and shift the perspective of what an orchestra looks like. “I feel like it’s going to open the minds of many people to realize that women of color belong everywhere and we’ve always been everywhere. It’s magical.”

The final result, shared exclusively with Billboard on Monday (May 8) is equally magical. The instrumentalists are donned in eloquent 1700s-inspired gowns as they deliver sweeping strings, ethereal percussion and grounding horns — all working together to uplift Keys’ honeyed vocals and piano melody. “I know they’re gonna be very emotional when they see it because the women we who were there were extremely emotional,” Keys recalled. “Our conductor [Ofentse Pitse] said, ‘It feels like when we have an orchestra of all women of color from all over the world, that we’re finally doing something right.’ This is what our ancestors never experienced.”

Pitse, a Tshwane, South Africa, native who is the youngest and first Black African woman to conduct and own an orchestra, shares with Billboard that the experience felt “historic” from the very first moment. “I think I knew the importance of it when I was on the airplane, but when I actually got there, it just really changed my perspective of the reason why we are all there. We should not just be the first and only ones to do something like this.”

Pulling together such an inspiring group of women is nothing out of the ordinary for Keys, who has always been a fierce advocate for gender equality, something that she says she learned from her mother. “My mother is definitely a feminist for sure. She raised me, and that desire for equanimity and fairness was really instilled in me, and then I would see how it will come out in my songs,” she says. “I would see it on ‘A Woman’s Worth,’ or ‘Superwoman’ or ‘Girl on Fire,’ and I know that the majority of those songs and feelings have come from needing a boost, needing that extra energy. Those songs, in a lot of ways, were what I wished and hoped to feel. Then, I was thinking of how beautiful this moment was with Queen Charlotte and how it really felt like what’s possible came to life, and it’s possible to create special moment when you pay attention to what’s needed.”

The “No One” singer is bringing that extra energy and even more special moments to her upcoming Keys to the Summer Tour, which is set to stretch across North America this summer. Keys is certainly no stranger to touring, but is entering this upcoming run with a sense of celebration, self-liberation and a whole lot of love. “We’re all after the ability to be liberated, to just feel comfortable in our skin, to be allowed to be who we are. To demand that from ourselves and to practice that is so important,” she says of the upcoming trek, during which she promises to revisit some deep cuts from her extensive discography and “tune back into them.”

Watch the Queen Charlotte’s Global Orchestra rendition of “If I Ain’t Got You” exclusively via Billboard here, and catch Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story over on Netflix.