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Black History NJ: Queen Latifah

Dana Elaine Owens, more famously known as Queen Latifah, was born in Newark, New Jersey on March 18, 1970. She donned the nickname “Latifah” for the first time when she was 8 years old, after she found out it meant “delicate” and “sensitive” in Arabic.

Owens grew up in a police family (her father and brother were cops), which she credits for influencing her lifestyle and philosophy, and making her a tough person. She was highly active at Irvington High School, where she played power forward on her high school girls’ basketball team, and sang “Home” from the musical The Wiz in a high school play.

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Starting Out

Owens’s career began soon after her performance of “Home,” when she was first hired as a beatboxer alongside Ladies Fresh. Then in 1989, Fab Five Freddy helped Owens get a contract with Tommy Boy Music. In that same year, Owens released her first album, All Hail the Queen. Her debut album and subsequent sophomore album, titled Nature of a Sista, both received rave reviews and made Owens a hit among the hip-hop crowd.

As Owens continued to make money, she became a natural businesswoman; in Jersey City, she organized and became CEO of the Flavor Unit Records and Management Company in 1991. After her brother was in a fatal motorcycle accident a year later, Owens recorded a jazz and reggae-influenced album titled Black Reign in his honor, and in 1995, the album’s single “U.N.I.T.Y.” earned Owens her very first Grammy Award.

The New Jersey-native did not just limit herself to a career in music, however (even though she was enjoying immense success). Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Owens became a household name for her various television and movie rolls. In the early ‘90s, she had recurring roles on the NBC hit The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and also starred in the FOX sitcom Living Single; then from 1999 to 2001, she hosted her own talk show, The Queen Latifah Show. In the early 2000s, Owens became a popular movie star with her roles in films like Bringing Down the House, Scary Movie 3, and Last Holiday.

Current Life

Queen Latifah continues to entertain her fans in many television and film roles. Today, she is widely recognized as an actress; however, it was her impressive music career that spring-boarded her into stardom. Though she hasn’t released an album since 2009, her fans are still able to look forward to her many pop culture appearances.

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Hero (Top) Feature Image: © Donna Lou Morgan, U.S. Navy / Wikimedia Commons

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