Queen Latifah

Queen Latifah Biography

(1970–)
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Queen Latifah is a Grammy Award-winning rapper, record producer and actress, known for her roles in the big-screen adaptation of 'Chicago' and the TV film 'Bessie.'

Who Is Queen Latifah?

Famed musician and actress Queen Latifah was born on March 18, 1970, in Newark, New Jersey. Her debut hip-hop album, All Hail to the Queen, sold more than 1 million copies, and the single "U.N.I.T.Y." earned Latifah her first Grammy Award in 1995. Latifah has also garnered acclaim for acting, earning her first Oscar nomination for her performance in the 2002 blockbuster musical Chicago, and an Emmy nod for her portrayal of blues singer Bessie Smith in the 2015 HBO film Bessie.

Early Life

Rapper, record producer and actress Queen Latifah was born Dana Elaine Owens on March 18, 1970, in Newark, New Jersey. The second child of Lance and Rita Owens, Latifah is best known for her social politics, acting skills and gift for rhyme. When she was 8 years old, a Muslim cousin gave her the nickname Latifah, meaning "delicate and sensitive" in Arabic. 

Latifah began singing in the choir of Shiloh Baptist Church in Bloomfield, New Jersey, and had her first public performance when she sang a version of "Home" as one of the two Dorothys in a production of The Wizard of Oz at St. Anne's parochial school.

In her first year of high school, Latifah began informal singing and rapping in the restrooms and locker rooms. In her junior year, she formed a rap group, Ladies Fresh, with her friends Tangy B and Landy D in response to the formation of another young women's group. Soon the group was making appearances wherever they could. 

Latifah's mother was a catalyst; she was in touch with the students and the music. She invited Mark James, a local disc jockey known as D.J. Mark the 45 King, to appear at a school dance. The basement of James's parents' house in East Orange, equipped with electronic and recording equipment, became the hangout of Latifah and her friends, who called themselves the "Flavor Unit."

Albums and Songs

'Wrath of My Madness,' 'All Hail to the Queen'

James, who was beginning a career as a producer, gave a demo record of Queen Latifah's rap Princess of the Posse to the host of Yo! MTV Raps, Fred Braithwaite (professionally known as "Fab 5 Freddy"). The recording captured the attention of Tommy Boy Music employee Dante Ross, and in 1988 the label issued her first single, "Wrath of My Madness." The track met with a positive response, affording Latifah the opportunity to launch a European tour and to perform at Harlem's famed Apollo Theater. The next year, Latifah released her first album, All Hail to the Queen, which went on to sell more than 1 million copies.

'Nature of a Sista'' and Management

The artist followed in 1991 with Nature of a Sista', featuring the singles "Fly Girl," "How Do I Love Thee" and "Latifah's Had It Up 2 Here." Meanwhile, she displayed an interest in investment, putting money into a delicatessen and a video store. Realizing that there was an opening for her in record production, Latifah organized and became chief executive officer of the Flavor Unit Records and Management Company, headquartered in Jersey City, New Jersey. By late 1993, the company had signed 17 rap groups, including the very successful Naughty by Nature.

'Black Reign,' Grammy for 'U.N.I.T.Y.,' 'Order in the Court'

In 1993, Latifah recorded a jazz- and reggae-influenced album titled Black Reign. It sold more than 500,000 copies, while the catchy single "U.N.I.T.Y." earned Latifah her first Grammy Award in 1995. She followed in 1998 with her fourth studio effort, Order in the Court, which was notable for being her first album to sport a Parental Advisory warning for explicit lyrics.

'The Dana Owens Album,' 'Trav'lin' Light,' 'Persona'

Latifah branched out from hip hop to show her range as a singer with The Dana Owens Album (2004), which climbed to No. 16 on the Billboard 200 and earned a Grammy nomination for best jazz vocal album. Trav'lin Light (2007) fared even better on the pop charts and earned a Grammy for instrumental arrangement. Latifah then returned to her rap roots with Persona (2009), though the album drew a mixed response from critics.

Film, TV & Stage

'Jungle Fever,' 'Juice,' 'Living Single'

Turning to acting, Latifah made her big-screen debut in Spike Lee's interracial romance drama Jungle Fever (1991). The following year, she appeared in the crime thriller Juice, with Omar Epps and Tupac Shakur. Latifah soon landed a leading role on the small screen, appearing in the sitcom Living Single from 1993 to '98. The comedy, which also starred Kim Coles, Kim Fields and Erika Alexander, proved to be a groundbreaking show. It remains one of the few sitcoms to focus on a group of African-American women.

'Set It Off,' 'Living Out Loud,' 'The Bone Collector'

A talented performer, Latifah continued to tackle both comedic and dramatic parts. She co-starred in 1996's Set It Off, with Jada Pinkett Smith and Vivica A. Fox, playing a lesbian bank robber. Two years later, Latifah teamed up with Holly Hunter and Danny DeVito for the comedy Living Out Loud. She also appeared with Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie in The Bone Collector (1999).

Oscar Nomination for 'Chicago'

Perhaps Latifah's most acclaimed film role to date came in the 2002 hit musical Chicago, starring Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger. Her portrayal of prison matron Mama Morton gave her a chance to show off both her singing talents and acting skills. For her work in the film, Latifah earned an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress.

'Bringing Down the House,' 'Beauty Shop,' 'Ice Age: The Meltdown'

Latifah went on to receive strong reviews for 2003's romantic comedy Bringing Down the House, alongside Steve Martin. The following year, she experienced some disappointment with Taxi, which co-starred Jimmy Fallon. But she fared better with Beauty Shop (2005) and her voiceover work in the hit animated film Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006).

'Hairspray,' 'The Secret Life of Bees,' 'Steel Magnolias'

In 2007, Queen Latifah again delighted movie-goers with her musical talents by appearing as Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray, with John Travolta. Her crime caper Mad Money (2008), with Diane Keaton and Katie Holmes, received a colder reception. Returning to drama, Latifah gave a strong performance in The Secret Life of Bees (2008). She also appeared on shows like 30 Rock and Single Ladies around this time, and went on to co-star in the 2012 TV remake of Steel Magnolias, with Alfre Woodard, Phylicia Rashad and Jill Scott.

Talk Show, 'Bessie,' 'The Wiz Live!'

Having hosted a daytime talk show from 1999 to 2001, the entertainer sought to establish another version of The Queen Latifah Show in the fall of 2013Although the show was canceled in early 2015, Latifah bounced back with a widely praised portrayal of legendary singer Bessie Smith in HBO's Bessie, garnering Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for her work. Late that year, she played the Wiz in the NBC production of the musical The Wiz Live!

'Star,' 'Girls Trip,' 'Flint'

After co-starring with Jennifer Garner in the 2016 family drama Miracles from Heaven, Latifah took on a leading role in the Fox musical drama Star, which aired for three seasons. The following year, Latifah joined the ensemble cast of the raunchy comedy Girls Trip, which proved a hit with fans. She also took on a weightier role in the Lifetime drama Flint, about the water crisis in the Michigan city, for which she received an NAACP Image award for outstanding actress. In November 2019, Latifah resurfaced in ABC's The Little Mermaid Live!, her performance as Ursula drawing praise as one of the highlights of the production.

Spokesperson and Personal

In addition to acting, Queen Latifah has served as a spokesperson for CoverGirl cosmetics. She even has her own line with the company: The Queen Collection.

Latifah's sexuality has been the subject of rumors over the years, but the Queen refuses to delve into such private matters. "I don’t have a problem discussing the topic of somebody being gay, but I do have a problem discussing my personal life," she told The New York Times in 2008. "I don’t care if people think I’m gay or not. Assume whatever you want. You do it anyway."

In March 2018, Latifah confirmed the death of her mother, following a long battle with a heart condition.

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