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, which was equipped with electronic and recording equipment, became the hangout of Latifah and her friends. They began to call themselves “Flavor Unit.”
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 a 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.
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 as a lesbian bank robber. Two years later, Latifah teamed up with Holly Hunter and Danny DeVito for the comedy Living Out Loud (1998). She also appeared with Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie in The Bone Collector.
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 comedyBringing Down the House co-starring with 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 voice-over 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 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. Latifah branched out in a new direction the following year. She will enter the daytime television market with a new talk show. The Queen Latifah Show will debut in the fall of 2013. The program promises to be a mix of interviews and comedic and musical performances, according to BET.com.
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.