Alicia Keys calls out Grammy president, ‘The Crown’ pay gap at Variety’s Power of Women luncheon

Alicia Keys was honored at Variety’sPower of Women New York for co-launching Keep a Child Alive, a nonprofit aimed at combating the physical, social and economic impacts of HIV. And while she spoke at length about that organization, she also spoke about the day’s theme and the people in the room.

She was introduced by “Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts, who said, “She not only changed the world around us, she changed the way we see ourselves. I’ll say it, but I’m not going to sing it — this girl is on fire.”

Keys took the stage, joked about trying to get Roberts to sing, and then said, “We are more on fire than we’ve ever been — and look at all the action that’s around us: women running for office in record numbers, women banding together in the entertainment industry, women demanding an end to disparity in the music industry like equal representation on the Grammy stage,” she said, referencing the low number of women performers during this year’s show and Recording Academy chief’s comment that women need to “step up” in order to get ahead in the music industry.

“We were told we need to step up. Well you feel that step up now?” she said.

Keys also addressed the importance of equal compensation for equal work, pointing to the pay disparity between Elisabeth Moss and Matt Smith on “The Crown.”

“It’s called ‘The Crown,'” she said of the Netflix series. “It’s about the queen. So why is the prince getting more than the queen? So the queens are going to get their paper.”

“Finally the country started listening,” she continued. “I have so much pride in all of us women finding our voice. But this isn’t only women’s work — I saw the men, they were a little shook,” she laughed. “I don’t want them to feel that way because it takes great men, and there are so many of them, who support us in raising our voices to make this cultural change happen.”

She spoke about her first manager Jeff Robinson. “In meetings, he made sure I had a seat at the table. I was 14, and Jeff treated me like an equal. It takes that from men and women alike to shift this once for all.”

She thanked her month — “a true woman of power” — she referenced Anita Hill as a “founding mother of the current moment and the courage it took to do what she did.” She also spoke out against police violence against blacks, and of course the strength of the women she’s worked with in Keep a Child Alive.

“I’m telling you all this to share stories about truly culture-rocking women, she concluded. “I’m so honored to be standing here with you all, because you are warriors, agents of change. And I accept this honor on behalf of all the women who have never been recognized in the way they ought to be: You are all incredible women of power.”

Speaking to Variety for this week’s Power of Women issue, she credited her first trip to South Africa 16 years ago as the spark that ignited her passion for helping others in need, as she performed a charity concert in Cape Town as part of MTV’s HIV prevention and awareness initiative, Staying Alive. She toured the country meeting survivors of the epidemic.

In Soweto, specifically, she encountered children orphaned by AIDS who were forced to raise their younger siblings — effectively becoming the heads of their households. She described how many of the young girls in this position were pushed into the sex trade for survival. “They were just a few years younger than me. So I was like, ‘What if this was happening to me, and nobody listened to me, nobody cared?'” She came back ready to do something. The trip “gave me a new purpose. I was like, if we could do something, I’m in.”

Keys co-founded Keep a Child Alive with activist Leigh Blake shortly thereafter in 2003. The intensely community-oriented charity supports six grassroots organizations throughout Africa and one in India, with an eye to holistic approaches that address the socioeconomic roots of the epidemic and honor individuals with the disease.

Annually, the charity serves 70,000 people, providing generic, affordable AIDS medications to needy population and piloting innovative approaches to region-specific issues. Its mission statement reads: No new infections. No barriers to treatment. No discrimination.

RELATED: Alicia Keys through the years

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Alicia Keys through the years
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Alicia Keys through the years
Portrait of singer Alicia Keys, New York, 2001. (Photo by Anthony Barboza/Getty Images)
Alicia Keys (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage for The Recording Academy)
Alicia Keys, winner of multiple NAACP Image awards, including Outstanding Female Artist (Photo by Jason Merritt/FilmMagic)
Eli Harris and Alicia Keys at the Lower East Side in New York, New York (Photo by James Devaney/WireImage)
WASHINGTON - JANUARY 20: Alicia Keys performs during the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball on January 20, 2009 in Washington, DC. President Barack Obama is hosting ten Inaugural Balls this eveing. Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States today, becoming the first African-American to be elected President of the US. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 06: Alicia Keys attends the Chanel Ready-To-Wear Fall/Winter 2012 show as part of Paris Fashion Week at Grand Palais on March 6, 2012 in Paris, France. (Photo by Tony Barson/WireImage)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 28: Alicia Keys attends the 98th Annual White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton on April 28, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
(Monica Schipper via Getty Images)
US singer Alicia Keys performs during the 13th music festival Mawazine in Rabat on June 7, 2014. AFP PHOTO / FADEL SENNA (Photo credit should read FADEL SENNA/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 03: Alicia Keys and Swizz Beats attend the 8th annual Keep A Child Alive Black Ball at the Hammerstein Ballroom on November 3, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)
Swizz Beats and Alicia Keys attend 'Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty' Costume Institute Gala on April 2, 2011 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 26: Swizz Beats and Alicia Keys attend the screening of 'Five' at Skylight SOHO on September 26, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 13: (L-R) Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz peform at Webster Hall on December 13, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - JULY 04: Alicia Keys attends the 2014 Essence Music Festival on July 4, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage)
RABAT, MOROCCO - JUNE 7: American singer Alicia Keys performs during the last day of 13th Mawazine Music Festival on 7 June, 2014. (Photo by Mustapha Houbais/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - NOVEMBER 09: Alicia Keys performs during the outside broadcast of the MTV EMA's 2014 at on November 9, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Shirlaine Forrest/Getty Images for MTV)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 27: Singer Alicia Keys arrives at Unite4good And Variety Host 1st Annual Unite4:humanity Event on February 27, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 24: Singer/songwriter Alicia Keys attends the 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2' New York Premiere on April 24, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 30: (Exclusive Coverage) Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz speak onstage during Keep A Child Alive's 11th Annual Black Ball at Hammerstein Ballroom on October 30, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Child2014/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 04: Singer Alicia Keys attends the 2014 DVF Awards on April 4, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Toth/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 12: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Alicia Keys' 'Blue Moon: From The Journals Of Mama Mae & LeeLee' Book Release at Barnes & Noble Tribeca on November 12, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - DECEMBER 7: Alicia Keys appears on CBS This Morning with Norah O'Donnell, Charlie Rose and Gayle King on Monday, Dec. 7, 2015 for the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Heather Wines/CBS via Getty Images)
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