Taraji Penda Henson (born September 11, 1970) is an American actress and singer. She is known for her roles as Yvette in Baby Boy (2001), Shug in Hustle and Flow (2005) and Queenie in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2009. From 2011 to 2013, she co-starred in the CBS drama Person of Interest and currently stars on the Fox musical drama series Empire.
Henson was born in southeast Washington, D.C., the daughter of Bernice Gordon, a corporate manager at Woodward & Lothrop, and Boris Lawrence Henson, a janitor and metal fabricator. Her first and middle name are of Swahili origin, "Taraji" meaning hope and "Penda" meaning love.
Henson spent summers at her grandparents' house in suburban southern Maryland. She attended Oxon Hill High School in Oxon Hill, Maryland. She first attended North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, where she started a major in Electrical Engineering. She later transferred to Howard University. She worked two jobsâ"in the morning as a secretary at the Pentagon and in the night as a waitress on The Odyssey Cruise Line to pay for Howard University. She won the Triple Threat Award and graduated with a degree in Theater Arts.
Henson has appeared in the films Four Brothers (2005), Talk To Me (2007), Smokin' Aces (2007), The Family That Preys (2008), and Hurricane Season (2009). In late 2008, she starred opposite Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Henson plays the role of Queenie, Benjamin's mother, in a performance which has garnered critical acclaim and an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She noted in an interview that, "Queenie is the embodiment of unconditional love."
Henson has also been a cast member on several television shows, including Lifetime Television's The Division and ABC's Boston Legal for one season. Her recurring appearances in television include the character Angela Scott on ABC's Eli Stone in December 2008. She has guest-starred on several television shows, such as the WB Television Network's Smart Guy, playing the role of Monique (1997â"98); the Fox series House in 2005; and CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation in 2006. She also starred on an episode of Sister, Sister. In 2011, Henson was cast in the CBS crime-suspense series Person of Interest.
Henson made her singing debut in Hustle & Flow; she provided the vocals for the Three 6 Mafia track "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp". The song won an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2006, giving Three 6 Mafia the distinction of becoming the first African American hip-hop act to win in that category. Henson performed the song at the live Oscar ceremony on March 5, 2006 with the group. Additionally, she performed the song "In My Daughter's Eyes" on the 2006 charity album Unexpected Dreams â" Songs From the Stars.
Henson has made several appearances in music videos. For example, she starred in the rapper Common's music video "Testify" in 2005 as the wife of a soon to be convicted murderer.
Henson joined People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in its campaign against the use of animal products in clothing, stating, "I don't think a living being should suffer for the sake of fashion, period. End of story... You don't have to kill an animal just because you want to be hot and fly. And I really stand by that". In January 2011, she appeared nude in an ad for the I'd Rather Be Naked Than Wear Fur campaign.
In 2012, Henson starred in the large ensemble cast film Think Like A Man, which was based on Steve Harvey's 2009 book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. Henson reprised her role in the film's sequel Think Like a Man Too, which was released in June 2014.
Henson joined PETA again for a 2013 campaign stating "Be an Angel for Animals". In the ad Henson poses with her family dog Uncle Willie while wearing a piece of sheer fabric. The ad highlights the issue that, "Chained dogs suffer day in and day out. They are cold, hungry, thirsty, vulnerable, and lonely. Keep them inside, where it's safe and warm."
In the Person of Interest November 20, 2013 episode "The Crossing", after co-starring for two and a half years, Henson's character Carter was killed as part of the series' new storyline direction. In February 2014, several months after her last episode of Person of Interest aired on CBS, Henson was hired by FOX to star in the new TV series pilot Empire, a musical drama set in the hip hop recording industry. Henson plays Cookie Lyon opposite co-lead Terrence Howard. FOX ordered the pilot to series in May 2014 and the TV series debuted on January 7, 2015.
Henson's son Marcel was born in May 1994. Her son's father was her high school sweetheart. According to a mitochondrial DNA analysis, her matrilineal lineage can be traced to the Masa people of Cameroun.
Awards and nominations
- Taraji P. Henson at the Internet Movie Database
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