Taraji Penda Henson (born September 11, 1970) is an American actress and author. She is known for her roles as Yvette in Baby Boy (2001), Shug in Hustle & 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.
Taraji currently stars as Cookie Lyon 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 most of her 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 jobs—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.
Taraji's breakthrough role was in the film Baby Boy which she portrayed Yvette. 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.
Henson has starred in Tyler Perry films The Family That Preys in 2008 and I Can Do Bad All By Myself in 2009. In 2010, she appeared in the remake of 1984 film of the same name the The Karate Kid alongside Jaden Smith. The film was a commercial success receiving positive reviews and became a box office hit. 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 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 (1997–98); 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. 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. Henson also stars in the movie Hustle & Flow along with Terrence Howard and plays Shug.
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 with positive reviews from critics.
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 – 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. On March 16, 2015 she was a guest co-host on Live! with Kelly and Michael filling in for regular co-host Kelly Ripa.
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