Childhood & Early Life
Taraji P. Henson was born on September 11, 1970, in Washington, D.C., USA, to Boris Lawrence Henson and Bernice Gordon. In Swahili language, her first name ‘Taraji’ means hope and middle name ‘Penda’ means love.
Her father was a metal fabricator and mother was a corporate manager. Her parents parted ways when she was just two. She is related to the late explorer Matthew Henson.
She wanted to study at ‘Duke Ellington School for the Arts’ in Washington, but was unsuccessful in gaining an admission into the institute. Following the setback, she joined ‘Oxon Hill High School’ from where she graduated in 1988.
She took up electrical engineering at the ‘North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.’ Following her failure in pre-calculus, she got transferred to the ‘Howard University’ to pursue theatre.
To support her education, she took up two jobs simultaneously. While she worked at ‘The Pentagon’ as a secretary in the morning, she worked at the ‘Spirit of Washington’ as a cruise-ship entertainer in the evening.
She earned a ‘Triple Threat Scholarship’ at the ‘Howard University.’ In 1995, she received her bachelor’s degree in fine arts.
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In 1997, she made her acting debut in the television show ‘The Parent 'Hood.’ Some of her early television works include series like ‘Sister, Sister’ (1997), ‘ER’ (1998), ‘Division’ (2002-2004), ‘CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (2006), and ‘Boston Legal’ (2007-2008). Her first television movie was ‘Satan’s School for Girls’ (2000).
Taraji P. Henson made her film debut in 1998 when she played ‘Tammy’ in the hood-action-crime thriller ‘Streetwise.’ In 2000, she was part of the cast of the live-action animated adventure comedy film ‘The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.’
In 2001, she landed her breakthrough film role in ‘Baby Boy,’ a comedy drama movie that earned her the ‘Best Actress’ award nomination at the ‘Black Movie Awards.’
In 2005, she played ‘Shug,’ a prostitute, in the ‘Oscar’ award-winning independent film ‘Hustle & Flow.’ She also lent her voice for the film’s song ‘It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp.’ She got nominated for her role at the ‘NAACP Image Awards,’ ‘MTV Movie Awards,’ ‘Screen Actors Guild Awards,’ and ‘Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association.’
She continued displaying her acting skills by playing important roles in films like ‘Smokin' Aces’ (2006) and ‘Talk to Me’ (2007).
She was nominated at prestigious award ceremonies like the ‘Oscars’ and ‘Screen Actors Guild’ for essaying the character of ‘Queenie’ in the 2008 film ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.’ She was cast alongside Brad Pitt in the film that won her three awards, namely ‘Austin Film Critics Association Award,’ ‘BET Award,’ and ‘NAACP Image Award.’
She went on to prove her versatility as an actress with films like ‘The Family That Preys’ (2008), ‘I Can Do Bad All By Myself’ (2009), ‘Date Night’ (2010), and ‘The Karate Kid’ (2010).
In 2011, she played the character of a real life woman named Tiffany Rubin in the film ‘Taken from Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story.’ She not only received positive reviews but also won ‘BET Award,’ ‘NAACP Image Award,’ and ‘Black Reel Award’ for her outstanding performance. She also received several nominations, including a nomination at the ‘Primetime Emmy Awards.’
She essayed the character of ‘Detective Jocelyn "Joss" Carter’ in ‘Person of Interest,’ a crime-suspense television series, aired on ‘CBS.’ She was part of the series for two and a half years from 2011 to 2013. In 2015, she made a special appearance in the series.
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She played ‘Lauren Harris’ in the 2012 film ‘Think Like a Man.’ She went on to reprise her role as ‘Lauren Harris’ in the 2014 sequel ‘Think Like a Man Too.’
Taraji continued to display her versatility by playing various kinds of roles. In 2014, she also played ‘Terri Granger’ in the film ‘No Good Deed.’ For her performance in the film, she earned a ‘BET Award’ and two ‘NAACP Image Awards.’
In January 2015, she started playing the main role of ‘Cookie Lyon’ in the television musical drama series ‘Empire.’ The series has become a commercial success and earned her the ‘Critics' Choice Television Award’ under the ‘Best Actress in a Drama Series’ category. While the series received positive reviews, her work won her critical acclaim and widespread popularity. She also received a nomination for ‘Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series’ at the 2015 ‘Primetime Emmy Awards.’
In 2015, she hosted an episode of ‘Saturday Night Live.’ On March 16, 2015, she co-hosted the show ‘Live! with Kelly and Michael’ in the absence of Kelly Ripa.
Apart from doing films and television series, she also appears in music videos. Some of the music videos where she has appeared include ‘Testify’ and ‘Stay.’
In 2016, she portrayed the character of a mathematician named Katherina Johnson in the biographical drama ‘Hidden Figures’ for which she won the ‘BET Award,’ ‘NAACP Image Award,’ and ‘MTV Movie Award.’
In 2018, she was part of movies, such as ‘Proud Mary’ and ‘Acrimony.’ The same year, she voiced the character of ‘Yesss’ in the blockbuster 3D computer animated movie ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet.’
In 2019, she starred alongside Tracy Morgan and Aldis Hodge in the commercially successful movie ‘What Men Want.’ She was also seen in the drama movie ‘The Best of Enemies.’