Growing up in Hell's Kitchen, which back in the 1980s was a rough neighborhood, Keys graduated as valedictorian of her class at age 16 from New York's prestigious School of Performing Arts and was accepted to Columbia University. But then Columbia Records called. After a month at college, Keys quit.
"I had to focus on the music if I was going to make it work," she said. "And alternatively, I was going to have to focus on school if I was going to make it work. I had to focus on something, but I couldn't juggle two."
So she moved to Harlem and started recording -- and it paid off. Her debut album, "Songs in a Mirror," earned her five Grammys, including one for Best New Artist. Her follow-up album, "Diary of Alicia Keys," which included the single, "If I Ain't Got You," won her four more.
"I think a lot of my life I did live ahead of myself," Keys said. "That's not a bad thing, you know, to have visions and dreams for yourself…that was all I had, was the chance to show and prove that I was good at it. I was going to do that to every degree possible."