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Famed rapper, singer, model and actress Dana Elaine Owens, better known by her stage name 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; she earned her first Oscar nomination (best supporting actress) for her performance in the blockbuster musical Chicago. She has also earned a Golden Globe award, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, two Image Awards, six additional Grammy nominations, an Emmy Award nomination and an Academy Award nomination.
Latifah was born and raised in the public housing projects of Newark, New Jersey, the daughter of Rita, a schoolteacher who worked at Irvington High School, and Lancelot Owens, a policeman. Her parents divorced when Latifah was ten. Latifah performed the number "Home" from the musical The Wiz in a high school play. Her stage name, Latifah (لطيفة), meaning "kind" in Arabic, was given to her when she was eight by her cousin. Latifah was raised in the Baptist church, and, while in high school, was a power forward on her basketball team.
She started her career beatboxing for the rap group Ladies Fresh. Latifah was one of the members of the original version of the Flavor Unit MC's, which, at that time, was a crew of MC's grouped around producer DJ Mark The 45 King. In 1988, DJ Mark the 45 King heard a demo version of Latifah's single Princess of the Posse and gave the demo to Fab 5 Freddy, who was the host of Yo! MTV Raps. 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 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. In the same year she was released her sophomore album, called Nature of a Sista'. It was the final album on Tommy Boy Records. 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. In 1998, Co Produced by Ro Smith now CEO of Def Ro Inc. she released her fourth hip hop album Order in the Court. After Order in the Court, Latifah shifted primarily to sung lyrics in soul music and jazz standards, which she had used sparingly in her previous hip hop-oriented records.
In 2004, she released the soul/jazz standards The Dana Owens Album. On July 11, 2007, Latifah sang at the famed Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles as the headlining act in a live jazz concert. Before a crowd of more than 12,400, she was backed by a 10-piece live orchestra and three backup vocalists, The Queen Latifah Orchestra. Latifah performed new arrangements of standards including California Dreaming, first made popular by '60s icons The Mamas & the Papas. In 2007, Latifah released an album entitled Trav'lin' Light. Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Joe Sample, George Duke, Christian McBride, and Stevie Wonder made guest appearances. It was nominated for a Grammy in the "Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album" category. On September 12, 2008, Rolling Stone reported that Queen Latifah is working on a new album that is due in sometime in 2009; this album will be, at least partially, produced by Dr. Dre. She will also work with Missy Elliott.
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 ground-breaking 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, Kimberly Elise 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[[i]i] 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 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.
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