Alicia Keys and Oprah
Even before Alicia Keys belted out the first soulful notes of the lyrics that made her famous—"I keep on fallin' in and out of love with you"—I could feel the power of her presence. As she sat across from me on the stage of my show last spring, I decided that I wanted to have a real conversation with her, away from the cameras and commercial breaks. I finally do, on a Saturday morning in Harlem, at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, where writer Langston Hughes is buried.

The girl born Alicia Augello-Cook spent most of her childhood in Hell's Kitchen, one of New York's toughest neighborhoods. Though she was on decent terms with her father, Craig, she lived with her mother, Terri, who scraped by financially as a paralegal. Even with her meager means, Terri insisted that her daughter take piano lessons on a dilapidated upright a friend had given them. At 7 Alicia was learning classical piano, and by age 12, she was writing her own songs. After graduating as valedictorian from New York's Professional Performing Arts School, she was accepted at Columbia University.

Four weeks into her freshman year (at age 16), Alicia traded one Columbia for another, eager to build a career with her record label. When her deal with Columbia Records crumbled, legendary music producer Clive Davis, president of Arista, signed her. But in 2000, just as Alicia was completing her debut album, Davis was ousted from Arista and Songs in A Minor was put on hold. Later that year, Davis formed his own label, J Records, and promptly signed Alicia. Her first single, "Fallin'," soared to the top of the Billboard charts. She won five Grammys for the album, tying Lauryn Hill's record for the most wins for a female artist in one year. Her second album, 2003's The Diary of Alicia Keys , debuted at number one on the charts.

When I was working on The Color Purple , Quincy Jones said to me, "Your future is so bright it burns my eyes." I feel the same way about Alicia. The depth of who she'll become will startle her and the rest of the world.

Start reading Oprah's interview with Alicia Keys

Note: This interview appeared in the September 2004 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.