All Hail to the Queen, Queen Latifah’s debut hip-hop album, sold more than one million copies, and the single “U.N.I.T.Y.” earned Latifah her first Grammy Award in 1995. Latifah has also received critical acclaim for her performance in the 2002 blockbuster musical Chicago, as well as an Emmy nomination for her portrayal of blues artist Bessie Smith in the 2015 biopic Bessie.
On March 18, 1970, in Newark, New Jersey, Dana Elaine Owens was born. Latifah Owens, the second child of Lance and Rita Owens, is best renowned for her social politics, acting abilities, and knack for rhyme. A Muslim cousin gave her the nickname Latifah, which means “soft and sensitive” in Arabic, when she was eight years old.
Latifah began singing in the Shiloh Baptist Church choir in Bloomfield, New Jersey, and made her first public performance as one of two Dorothys in a rendition of The Wizard of Oz at St. Anne’s parochial school.
Latifah began informal singing and rapping in the restrooms and locker rooms during her freshman year of high school. In response to the formation of another young women’s group, she founded the rap group Ladies Fresh with her pals Tangy B and Landy D in her junior year. The group soon began to appear anywhere they could.
Latifah’s mother was a driving force; she was involved with the students and the music. She recruited D.J. Mark the 45 King, a local disc jockey, to perform at a school dance. The basement of James’ parents’ East Orange home, outfitted with electronic and recording equipment, became a hangout for Latifah and her pals, dubbed the “Flavor Unit.”
Albums and Songs
‘Wrath of My Madness,’ ‘All Hail to the Queen’
James, who was just starting out as a producer, handed the host of Yo! MTV Raps, Fred Braithwaite, a demo version of Queen Latifah’s rap Princess of the Posse (professionally known as “Fab 5 Freddy”). The track piqued the interest of Tommy Boy Records employee Dante Ross, and the company released her first song, “Wrath of My Madness,” in 1988. The song had a great response, allowing Latifah to embark on a European tour and sing at Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theater. The next year, Latifah released her debut album, All Hail to the Queen, which sold over one million copies.
‘Nature of a Sista” and Management
Nature of a Sista’ was released in 1991, and included the singles “Fly Girl,” “How Do I Love Thee,” and “Latifah’s Had It Up 2 Here.” Meanwhile, she shown an interest in investing by investing in a delicatessen and a video store. Latifah founded and became chief executive officer of the Flavor Unit Records and Management Corporation, headquartered in Jersey City, New Jersey, after realizing there was an opening for her in record creation. By late 1993, the label had signed 17 rap acts, including the hugely successful Naughty by Nature.
‘Black Reign,’ Grammy for ‘U.N.I.T.Y.,’ ‘Order in the Court’
Latifah released Black Reign, a jazz and reggae-influenced album, in 1993. It sold over 500,000 copies, and Latifah’s infectious single “U.N.I.T.Y.” earned her her first Grammy Award in 1995. Order in the Court, her fourth studio album, was released in 1998 and was remarkable for being the first to include a Parental Advisory warning for explicit lyrics.
‘The Dana Owens Album,’ ‘Trav’lin’ Light,’ ‘Persona’
Latifah moved away from hip hop to demonstrate her vocal range with The Dana Owens Album (2004), which peaked at No. 16 on the Billboard 200 and won her a Grammy nomination for best jazz vocal album. Trav’lin Light (2007) performed significantly better on the pop charts and was nominated for a Grammy for instrumental arrangement. Latifah then returned to her rap origins with Persona (2009), albeit the album received mixed reviews.
Film, TV & Stage
‘Jungle Fever,’ ‘Juice,’ ‘Living Single’
Latifah made her big-screen debut in Spike Lee’s interracial romance movie Jungle Fever (1991). The next year, she co-starred with Omar Epps and Tupac Shakur in the crime thriller Juice. Latifah immediately secured a prominent role on television, appearing from 1993 to 1998 in the sitcom Living Single. The comedy, which also included Kim Coles, Kim Fields, and Erika Alexander, was a game changer. It is still one of the few sitcoms that features a group of African-American women.
‘Set It Off,’ ‘Living Out Loud,’ ‘The Bone Collector’
Latifah, a gifted actress, continues to take on both humorous and tragic roles. She co-starred as a lesbian bank robber in 1996’s Set It Off, alongside Jada Pinkett Smith and Vivica A. Fox. Latifah joined Holly Hunter and Danny DeVito in the comedy Living Out Loud two years later. She also appeared in The Bone Collector alongside Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie (1999).
Oscar Nomination for ‘Chicago’
Latifah’s most celebrated film role to date was in the 2002 smash musical Chicago, which starred Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Renée Zellweger. Her depiction as prison matron Mama Morton allowed her to showcase both her singing and acting abilities. Latifah received an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress for her performance in the film.
‘Bringing Down the House,’ ‘Beauty Shop,’ ‘Ice Age: The Meltdown’
Latifah went on to garner positive reviews for her performance in the romantic comedy Bringing Down the House, which she co-starred in with Steve Martin in 2003. The next year, she was let down by Taxi, in which she co-starred with Jimmy Fallon. Yet she performed better in Beauty Shop (2005) and in the popular animated picture Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006).
‘Hairspray,’ ‘The Secret Life of Bees,’ ‘Steel Magnolias’
Queen Latifah thrilled moviegoers once more with her musical abilities in 2007, when she played Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray, alongside John Travolta. Crazy Money (2008), in which she co-starred with Diane Keaton and Katie Holmes, garnered a cooler review. Latifah returned to drama with a terrific performance in The Hidden Life of Bees (2008). Around this time, she appeared on sitcoms like 30 Rock and Single Ladies before going on to co-star in the 2012 TV remake of Steel Magnolias alongside Alfre Woodard, Phylicia Rashad, and Jill Scott.
Talk Show, ‘Bessie,’ ‘The Wiz Live!’
Having previously aired a daytime talk show from 1999 to 2001, the singer attempted to launch a new edition of The Queen Latifah Show in the fall of 2013. Despite the show’s cancellation in early 2015, Latifah rebounded with a well praised depiction of renowned singer Bessie Smith in HBO’s Bessie, for which she received Emmy and Golden Globe nominations. Late that year, she starred as the Wiz in the NBC production of The Wiz Live!
‘Star,’ ‘Girls Trip,’ ‘Flint’
Latifah takes up a big part in the Fox musical drama Star after co-starring with Jennifer Garner in the 2016 family film Miracles from Heaven. The next year, Latifah joined the cast of the raunchy comedy Girls Trip, which was a fan favorite. She also played a more significant role in the Lifetime drama Flint, about the Michigan city’s water crisis, for which she received an NAACP Image Award for outstanding actor. On November 2019, Latifah returned to ABC’s The Little Mermaid Live!, where her performance as Ursula was praised as one of the production’s highlights.
Spokesperson and Personal Life
Queen Latifah has worked as a spokesperson for CoverGirl cosmetics in addition to acting. The Queen Collection is her own brand with the corporation.
Latifah’s sexuality has long been a source of speculation, but the Queen will not discuss such personal topics. “I don’t mind talking about someone being gay, but I don’t like talking about my personal life,” she told The New York Times in 2008. “I don’t care whether or not people think I’m gay. Assume anything you want. You still do it.”
Latifah acknowledged her mother’s death in March 2018, after a protracted struggle with a heart disease.