Lauryn Hill

Since the 1998 release of her critically acclaimed, best-selling solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, this former soap-opera actress has become one of music's hottest performers.

Lauryn Hill was born in East Orange, N.J., on May 25, 1975, to an English-teacher mother and computer-consultant father. Hill began singing as a child and as a teen landed a role on the CBS soap "As the World Turns."

In high school, Hill became friends with Pras Michel, and the two formed the Fugees with Michel's cousin, Haitian èmigrè Wyclef Jean. Though the cousins had previously rapped together as Tranzlator Crew, for their new group they chose a new name — slang for "refugees" — and began laying down tracks in a basement studio.

The Fugees signed with Ruffhouse/Columbia in 1993 and released their first album, Blunted on Reality, a year later. "Nappy Heads," which sampled '70s R&B acts Earth, Wind & Fire and Kool & the Gang, was a minor hit.

Though in 1995 she took a break from the band to appear in the movie "Sister Act II," Hill returned to work on the Fugees' second album, The Score. Released in 1996, the album made the group a superstar act, largely on the basis of the single "Fu-Gee-La," which was remixed by Sly & Robbie. The single sold more than 500,000 units in the U.S. and was also a UK hit. An even bigger smash for the band was their hip-hop version of "Killing Me Softly," Roberta Flack's 1973 hit. It topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic and propelled the album past sales of 5 million copies.

Though the Fugees achieved massive acclaim for their music, it was rapper/producer/guitar player (and onetime Hill love interest) Jean who received the bulk of attention showered on the band.

That changed with the release of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, a powerful combination of hip-hop and highly spiritual R&B, topped with Hill's confessional vocals. The record garnered critical raves from nearly every corner, including the New York Times and Rolling Stone.

The album also resonated with the public. Fueled by songs such as the hit single "Doo Wop (That Thing)" (RealAudio excerpt), "Lost Ones" and a moving ode to her son, "To Zion" (RealAudio excerpt), the album sold more than 400,000 copies during the first week of its release, earning it the #1 position on the Billboard 200 albums chart. Hill won five Grammy Awards in 1998, including Album of the Year, a first for a hip-hop album. Miseducation has sold more than 6 million copies to date.

Last year, Hill completed successful tours in both the U.S. and Europe. She also contributed "Turn Your Lights Down Low," a virtual duet with the late Bob Marley, to the soundtrack of the film "The Best Man."

Other birthdays Thursday: Hal David, 79; Tom T. Hall, 64; Mitch Margo (Tokens), 53; Clifford Archer (Atlantic Starr), 49; and Robert Steinhardt (Kansas), 49.