Though she has spread her career wings into acting in films and television, Queen Latifah made music history by staking a place for women in the rap genre.
She was born Dana Owens on March 18, 1970, in Newark, N.J. She grew up a high school basketball star in East Orange, N.J., and worked at a Burger King restaurant.
Latifah, who chose her moniker because it means delicate and sensitive in Arabic, began rapping in a group called Ladies Fresh. Next, she cut demos with her friend Mark the 45 King, who sent them to Fab Five Freddy. The famed MC helped get Latifah signed to Tommy Boy Records.
Her first single was "Wrath of My Madness" (RealAudio excerpt). In 1989, she issued her debut LP, All Hail the Queen, which didn't sell well. But the record got Latifah noticed for her "Ladies First" motto and song of the same name, which championed pro-women activism a notion that was unheard of in the rap world. The Grammynominated LP also featured Monie Love, KRS-One and De la Soul.
Latifah became a media favorite and expanded her profile by rapping on David Bowie's remake of "Fame" and the soundtrack to the movie "New Jack City." Latifah embraced soul music on her sophomore LP, Nature of a Sista' (1991). It included the top-20 R&B hit "Latifah's Had It Up 2 Here." "Fly Girl" went top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Black Reign, Latifah's 1993 Motown Records debut, was her best seller. It featured the Grammy-winning hit "U.N.I.T.Y." and the soul hit "Just Another Day." Sales were helped by Latifah's starring role in the sitcom "Living Single." She also acted in the films "Jungle Fever," "Juice" and "House Party 2."
She started the management and production company Flavor Unit, whose most famous client was Naughty by Nature.
In 1998 Latifah returned to music with Order in the Court, including "Bananas (Who You Gonna Call?)" and "Black on Black Love."
More recent film credits include "Set It Off" (1996), "Sphere" (1998), "The Bone Collector" (1999) and Martin Scorsese's "Bringing Out the Dead" (1999). Latifah played a jazz singer in the 1998 movie "Living Out Loud."
Last year she began hosting the talk show "The Queen Latifah Show." She also guested on Meredith Brooks' Reconstruction.
On April 29, Latifah, Melissa Etheridge, George Michael and the Pet Shop Boys will play the Equality Rocks gay-rights benefit, at Washington, D.C.'s RFK Stadium. The show, which also will include country singers Garth Brooks and k.d. lang, will benefit the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, a group that works toward equality and tolerance for gays and lesbians.
Other birthdays on Saturday: Charley Pride, 62; Wilson Pickett, 59; John Hartman (Doobie Brothers), 50; Bill Frisell, 49; Irene Cara, 41; Jeff LeBar (Cinderella), 37; Vanessa Williams, 37; Jerry Cantrell (Alice in Chains), 34; Miki Berenyi (Lush), 33; Stuart Zender (Jamiroquai), 26; and Barry "B.J." Wilson (Procol Harum), 19471989.