Queen Latifah has become an almost iconic figure in popular entertainment, having reached high levels of success in music, television and, most recently, feature films over a two decade career. With a broad range of talents only hinted at early in her career, Latifah is now poised to become one of the major across-the-board stars of this decade.
Born Dana Owens in Newark, New Jersey in 1970, she took on the Arabic name Latifah while still a child, and later adopted the full pseudonym as a college student. By age 18 she was performing with hip-hop legend Afrika Bambaataa and she recorded her first album, All Hail the Queen, in 1989. The singles "Dance For Me" and "Ladies First" became rap smashes, though they received only moderate attention outside the rap world. However, the disc established Latifah as a female rap pioneer, both tough and intelligent, and won for her a loyal following. Her subsequent albums, Nature of a Sista and Black Reign solidified her position with her core audience, but did little to expand it. Her 1998 release, Order in the Court, added more soulful elements to her music, but was only a modest seller.
It was not Latifah's music, but rather her acting that brought her the most exposure. Her five year role on Fox's Living Single and guest appearances on a number of other TV shows gave mainstream America its first glimpse of the multi-talented beauty. This was buttressed by her two-year stint as host of her own syndicated talk show at the turn of the Millennium. However, her modest success exploded into stardom with her Oscar-nominated role in the musical movie Chicago. In retrospect, the casting of Latifa as Mama Morton seems inspired, and was a nearly perfect showcase for her acting and underrated singing talent. Her role in Chicago was followed by her first feature film leading part, a successful teaming with Steve Martin in Bringing Down the House. Perhaps even more important was her subsequent signing as a spokesperson for Cover Girl makeup, a bold and overdue move that expanded the often narrow definition of beauty put forth by Madison Avenue and made Latifah a true household face and name.
In 2004, Latifah took another career turn, recording The Dana Owens Album, an album of Jazz and Pop standards that is a 180 degree turn from her earlier recordings. Teaming with legendary producer Arif Mardin and hot younger producer Ron Fair on Dana Owens, Latifah takes on a number of familiar tunes, including Bill Withers' "The Same Love That Made Me Laugh," Al Green's "Simply Beautiful" (with Green dueting), the classic jazz number "Moody's Mood for Love" and the first single, a gentle cover of the Mamas and the Papas' "California Dreamin'."
by Chris Rizik
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