Alexander O'Neal was born November 15, 1953, in Natchez, Mississippi, United States, just a few months after his father died. After graduating from high school in Natchez, he attended Alcorn State University. At the age of 20, he relocated to Minneapolis, where he performed with several bands including the Mystics and Wynd Chymes. He became a member of Enterprise for a brief period before joining Flyte Tyme, a band which included Monte Moir, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
O'Neal released his debut album, the eponymous Alexander O'Neal, in 1985. Since then, he has released nine studio albums, six compilation albums and two live albums.
According to Jimmy Jam, In 1980/1981 O'Neal (along with fellow members of the band Flyte Tyme) met with Prince and Morris Day at Perkins restaurant in Minneapolis to discuss forming a band that would be called The Time that would be signed to Prince under the Warner Bros. label. Following a disagreement with Prince, O'Neal was replaced as lead singer by Morris Day.
O'Neal subsequently formed an R&B band called Alexander and recorded a couple 12" singles, "Do You Dare/Playroom" and "Attitude" for a Chicago area independent label, based in Merrillville, Indiana, called Erect Records.
In 1984 O'Neal signed a deal with Clarence Avant's Tabu Records. He did some backing vocals for other artists on the same label, including The S.O.S. Band and Cherrelle.