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 HBO film ‘Bessie.’ Famed musician and actress Queen Latifah was born on March 18, 1970, in Newark, New Jersey. Her debut 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. 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.
The rapper, record producer and actress Queen Latifah were 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. They began to call themselves “Flavor Unit.”
James was beginning a career as a producer and made a demo record of Queen Latifah’s rap Princess of the Posse. He gave the demo 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, who immediately signed Latifah, and in 1988 issued her first single, “Wrath of My Madness.” The track met with a positive response and afforded her the opportunity to launch a European tour, and to perform at the 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. As she began to earn money, Latifah displayed an interest in investment, putting money into a delicatessen and a video store on the ground floor of the apartment in which she was living. She came to realize that she had a knack for business and realized that there was an opening for her in record production.
In 1991, 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. In 1993, Latifah recorded jazz- and reggae-influenced album titled Black Reign. While the album sold more than 500,000 copies, the single “U.N.I.T.Y.” earned Latifah her first Grammy Award in 1995. In the 1990s, Latifah branched out into acting. She made her big screen debut in Spike Lee’s interracial romance drama Jungle Fever (1991). The following year, Latifah appeared in the crime thriller Juice with Omar Epps and Tupac Shakur. She 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.
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). 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. She lost to Chicago co-star Catherine Zeta-Jones. Latifah went on to receive strong reviews for 2003’s romantic comedy Bringing Down the House, starring alongside Steve Martin. The following year, she experienced some disappointment with Taxi, which co-starred Jimmy Fallon. The comedy proved to be a critical and commercial dud. She fared better with Beauty Shop (2005) and her voiceover work in the hit animated film Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006).
In 2007, Queen Latifah again delighted movie-goers with her musical talents. She appeared as Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray with John Travolta. Her crime caper Mad Money (2008) with Diane Keaton and Katie Holmes received a much colder reception. Returning to drama, Latifah gave a strong performance in The Secret Life of Bees (2008).
On the small screen, Latifah has made a number of guest television appearances over the years, including on the shows 30 Rock and Single Ladies. She also co-starred in the 2012 TV remake of Steel Magnolias with Alfre Woodard, Phylicia Rashad, and Jill Scott.
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 2013. Although the show was canceled in early 2015, Latifah bounced back later that year with a widely praised portrayal of legendary singer Bessie Smith in the HBO film Bessie, garnering Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for her work.
Latifah played the Wiz in the television production of the musical The Wiz Live! in 2015 and went on to co-star with Jennifer Garner in the family drama Miracles from Heaven the following year. In 2017, she joined the ensemble cast of the raunchy comedy Girls Trip, which proved a hit with fans.
In addition to acting, Queen Latifah serves 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, she confirmed the death of her mother, following a long battle with a heart condition.