As a preschooler, Alicia Keys is singled out for her musical ability. "Her teacher, who was very much into the arts, had Alicia singing a song from Cats – at barely 4 years old," her mother Terri Augello, a professional actress, tells Ebony in 2007. Augello gets her daughter a gig on The Cosby Show (left) in March 1985 when she is 5, and enrolls her in gymnastics, piano, and ballet. "Being a single parent raising her in the city, I tried to give her every opportunity, just so she could find out what her muse was," Augello adds.
Keys, 14, meets Jeff Robinson at a Harlem PAL (Police Activities League), and he becomes her trusted friend and manager. At 16, Keys attends Columbia University, but leaves her studies for a record deal with Columbia Records. She encounters creative differences with the label, and Clive Davis, then head of Arista, buys out the 17-year-old's contract, and she follows him to his new label, J Records (from left, Robinson, Keys' mother Terri, Keys and Davis).
With producer Kerry "Krucial" Brothers, Keys find her sound and releases the piano-driven ballad "Fallin'," off her debut album Songs in A Minor. Rolling Stone says the album "unleashes neosoul's newest princess, a black woman impacted equally by hip-hop, soul, Prince and classical."