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Queen Latifah - Biography

The legendary performer was born on March 18 1970

Queen Latifah wearing a heart necklace and a monochrome jacket© Getty
Orin Carlin
Content Writer
Updated: July 13, 2023
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Queen Latifah's childhood 

Queen Latifah, then known as Dana Elaine Owens, was born on March 18 1970, in Newark, New Jersey. She was the daughter of a police officer and a schoolteacher. Her parents divorced she was 10 years old, and while she attended Catholic school, she was raised in the Baptist faith.

She found her stage name "Latifah", translating as "very kind" and delicate", aged eight, via a book of Arabic names.

Queen Latifah's career 

She adopted the "Queen" part around the time of the launch of her rap career. She was in high school when she won a talent show with a group called Ladies Fresh. 

In 1987, she gave her demo tape to DJ friend and by the following year had a record deal. The Tommy Boy label released her house, reggae and jazz-accented debut album, All Hail The Queen, in 1989. Hailed the "Aretha Franklin of rap", Latifah's reputation also rose in the acting world after her film debut in Spike Lee's 1991 work Jungle Fever. A few small roles followed, and within two years she was cast in an ensemble sitcom, Living Single. She continued releasing popular albums including Black Reign featuring the Grammy winning single Unity and had her first starring big screen role in the all-female bank heist flick Set It Off. 

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But as her sitcom came to an end in 1997, the ever-evolving Latifah decided to reinvent herself, this time as a chat show host. The programme, The Queen Latifah Show, began its successful three-year run in 1999. Meanwhile, Latifah's film career was also on the fast track as she showed off her singing voice in the quirky Living Out Loud and landed roles in big-budget flicks like Sphere and The Bone Collector. But she wasn't yet satisfied. "This film business is a challenge to me," she said. "I want to be De Niro. I want to be Pacino and Foster and Hanks, but black. And I've got to put in work to do that. I'll never give it less than 100 per cent." 

In 2003, the rapper-turned-actress-turned-TV star moved one step closer to her goal, receiving an Academy Award Best Supporting Actress nomination for her standout role in the musical Chicago. She also starred in hit film Hairspray as Motormouth Maybelle alongside the likes of Zac Efron, Amanda Bynes, and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Queen Latifah's personal life 

Latifah's path has not always run smooth, however. In 1999, she released a tell-all autobiography, Ladies First: Revelations From A Strong Black Woman, in which she revealed brushes with prostitution and the drug trade. "I've been to those dark places. And I will never go back to them," she wrote. "To get to the point of true contentment with who I am, I had to go through a whole bunch of years of being something other than myself." 

In 1992, the rap star went into a deep depression after the sudden death of her 24-year-old brother Lancelot Jr, a police officer who was killed while riding the motorcycle Latifah gave him as a birthday gift. In an attempt to turn the tragedy into something positive, she established a university scholarship foundation in her brother's name. 

In 1995 she survived a car jacking in which her boyfriend was shot, and the following year she was arrested for carrying a loaded pistol, driving without a license and possession of marijuana. 

Latifah says she tries to keep the faith. "God keeps me on track because he knows I'm human and that I'll make mistakes," she says. "I want to get into heaven, so you'll never find me sinning too much. But in life I try to be brave and take charge." 

She is currently in a relationship with choreographer Eboni Nichols. The pair have one child together, a son named Rebel.

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