Childhood & Early Life
Queen Latifah was born on 18th March 1970 in Newark, New Jersey, to Lance and Rita Owens. Her father was in police services. Her parents got divorced when she was eight. She was raised by her mother in Baptist faith. Her mother played a catalyst role in her music career.
She had an older brother, Lance Owens, who also worked in police service. He died in a motorbike accident in 1992. This motorbike was presented to him by Latifah.
She attended Catholic School in Newark, New Jersey. During her high school days she was part of girls’ basketball team.
She began rapping during high school. She formed her first rap group ‘Ladies Fresh’ when she was in junior year. She met local DJ Mark James. He formed a group named ‘Flavor Unit’ of which Latifah was the original member.
James made a demo record of Latifah's rap ‘Princess of the Posse’. This recording caught attention of ‘Tommy Boy Music’ who immediately signed Latifah.
In 1988, this music company offered her first single, ‘Wrath of My Madness’. The song got a positive response and she got an opportunity of a European tour and to perform at the ‘Apollo Theater’.
Iin 1989, when she was just 19 years old, Latifah released her first album, ‘All Hail to the Queen’, which went on to sell more than 1 million copies. That year she appeared as referee for UK label Music of Life album ‘1989—The Hustlers Convention’.
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Queen invested her money in a small video store on the ground floor of her apartment. She elevated this business to turn it into a record production company. In 1991, when she was just 21 years old, she rolled out ‘Flavor Unit Records and Management Company’ in New Jersey in partnership with her old friend Shakim Compere. She became the CEO of this company.
In the same year, she also tried her hands at acting. She debuted in inter-racial romance drama ‘Jungle Fever’.
In 1992, she appeared in crime thriller ‘Juice’. Soon she grabbed a leading role in a sitcom ‘Living Single’. This comedy show was a ground breaking one.
By late 1993, her record company signed 17 rap groups. One of these groups, ‘Naughty by nature’, was very successful. In the same year, this company released, album ‘Black Reign’. This album was a big hit.
Next year she portrayed a lesbian bank robber in the movie ‘Set it Off’. She costarred with Jada Smith and Vivica Fox.
Two year later in 1998, she worked in the comedy movie ‘Living Out Loud’. This year she, along with Ro Smith, co-produced and released her fourth hip-hop album ‘Order in the Court’.
In 1999, along with Angelina Jolie she appeared in ‘The Bone Collector’.
Her musical film ‘Chicago’, which was released in 2002, was a huge hit.
Her romantic comedy show ‘Bringing Down the House’ released in 2003, was a box office success. She also recorded ‘Do Your Thing’ for its soundtrack. Thereafter, she played both leading and supporting roles in many films which received varied critical and box office success, including films such as ‘Scary Movie 3’, ‘Barbershop 2: Back in Business’ and ‘Kung Faux’.
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Her film ‘Taxi’, which was released in 2004, was not very well received. On the music front, after her last album ‘Order in the Court’, she shifted her focus primarily to singing soul music and jazz standards. In 2004, she released the soul/jazz standards ‘The Dana Owens Album’.
After two years of lull, the period 2005-06 proved fruitful for her. Her performance in 2005 released ‘Beauty Shop’ was appreciated. Even her voiceover work in the hit animated movie ‘Ice Age: The Meltdown’ which was released in 2006, was much appreciated. She also appeared in romantic comedy ‘Last Holiday’. Her performance in the film was much appreciated.
In 2007, she again delighted the fans with her musical talent. She appeared in ‘Hairspray’ with John Travolta. She opened the famed Hollywood Bowl in LA with a live jazz concert. She performed new arrangements of standards including classic ‘California Dreaming’. Later she released her album ‘Travelling Light’. This album was nominated for Grammy awards in ‘Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album’ category. She also portrayed an HIV-positive woman in ‘Life Support’.
In the same year, she diversified her career with venturing into production with the film ‘The Perfect Holiday’. She also acted in this movie.
Her crime thriller ‘Mad Money’ released in 2008 did not receive great response. Returning to drama, she gave a strong performance in ‘The Secret Life of Bees’ in the same year.
In 2009, she along with the NJPAC Jubilation Choir, recorded the title track on the album ‘Oh, Happy Day: An All-Star Music Celebration’, covering the song that was popular in 1969. In the same year, she also released an album ‘Persona’.
Year 2011 saw her singing ‘Who Can I Turn To’ in a duet with Tony Bennett for his album ‘Duets II’.
For three years, from 1999 to 2001, she hosted a daytime talk show ‘The Queen Latifah Show’. Another version of her show was aired in 2013. She has also hosted many award ceremonies.
In 2015, she gave a powerful performance in ‘Bessie’. She portrayed legendary singer Bessie Smith in this HBO film. Latifah received Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for this role.
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She serves as a spokesperson for ‘Cover Girl’ cosmetics. She even has her own line with the company ‘The Queen Collection’.
In 1993, shortly after her brother’s death, she released the album ‘Black Reign’. This album was jazz / reggae influenced. The single ‘U.N.I.T.Y’ was a huge hit. The song was about her story of reigning over tough times in personal life and about black people reigning over their oppressors. This song established her as one the best female rappers in the world and also fetched her, her first Grammy award.
Latifah's most acclaimed film role to date came in the 2002 hit musical ‘Chicago’, starring Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger. This movie received Academy Award in ‘Best Picture’ category. 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. Though she lost the award to her co-star Catherine Zeta-Jones, her role was critically acclaimed.
Before entering into the music world professionally, she worked briefly at Burger King.
In 1992, after her brother’s accidental death, she fell into bout of depression and drug abuse. She recovered later.
In 1995, she was the victim of carjacking which also resulted in the shooting of her boyfriend Sean Moon.
In 1996, she was arrested for assaulting a photographer. Later the same year she was again arrested for carrying loaded pistol and marijuana.