Vanessa Lee Carlton (born August 16, 1980) is an American singer-songwriter and musician. At the completion of her education at the School of American Ballet, Carlton chose to pursue singing instead, performing in New York bars and clubs while attending university. Three months after recording a demo with producer Peter Zizzo, she signed with A&M Records. She began recording her album, which was initially unsuccessful until Ron Fair took over. Her debut single, "A Thousand Miles," reached the top five on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2002. Her debut album, Be Not Nobody, followed and received platinum certification in the United States. However, her subsequent albums, Harmonium (2004) and Heroes & Thieves (2007) failed to replicate the commercial success of the first. She produced a fourth album, Rabbits on the Run (2011) independently before sourcing for a record label to release it.
Carlton was born in Milford, Pennsylvania to Ed Carlton, a pilot, and Heidi, a pianist and school music teacher. She has two younger siblings, a sister, Gwen and a brother, Edmund. Her mother is of Russian Jewish descent and her father is of Scandinavian ancestry. Her interest in music began at an early age; after returning from Disneyland at the age of two, she played "It's a Small World" on the piano. Her mother then began to tutor her on the piano. Carlton's mother exposed her to various classical composers such as W.A. Mozart and Erik Satie. Through her father, she was exposed to classic-rock artists such as Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. She developed an interest in ballet at the age of nine; she was accepted at the School of American Ballet at age 14 while attending high school at the Professional Children's School. At age 18, she decided to devote her time to piano-playing and songwriting, choosing not to become a dancer on graduation. Instead, she attended Columbia University and performed in bars and clubs in Manhattan, New York while waitressing in Hell's Kitchen.