Queen Latifah

Chicago star Dana Elaine Owens, better known as Queen Latifah, was just eight when she picked out the pseudonym Latifah which means "delicate, sensitive, kind" from a book of Muslim names. "I loved the way it sounded," she recalled later. "Even though I played basketball, climbed trees, fought boys, whipped their asses, and was big for my age, 'delicate, sensitive, kind' accurately described who I was inside."

Born on March 18, 1970, in Newark, New Jersey, the daughter of a police officer and a schoolteacher, Latifah the moniker "Queen" came with the launch of her rap career 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.

Called the "Aretha Franklin of rap", Latifah's star 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. 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, garnering a best supporting actress nomination for her standout role in the movie musical Chicago.

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.

Despite her troubled past in 1995 she survived a car jacking in which her bodyguard 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."

While her private life remains private she wears a platinum ring, saying: "When I meet the right man who can treat me as well as I treat myself, I will take this ring off and replace it with his" Latifah hasn't ruled out having a family when her schedule slows down. "I definitely want to have some babies and chill out for a while," she says, adding: "If they're going to be anything like their mama, I'm going to need a lot of patience and energy."
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