Taraji P. Henson

Taraji P. Henson

Henson at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2012
Born Taraji Penda Henson
(1970-09-11) September 11, 1970
Washington D.C.
Alma mater Howard University
Occupation Actress, singer
Years active 1995–present
Children 1

Taraji Penda Henson[1][2] (/təˈrɑːi/ tə-RAH-jee; born September 11, 1970)[1][2] is an American actress and singer. She studied acting at Howard University and began her Hollywood career in guest-roles on several television shows before making her breakthrough in Baby Boy (2001). In 2005, she starred in Hustle & Flow and played Queenie in David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), for which she received an Academy Award nomination. In 2010, she appeared in the comedy Date Night and co-starred in the remake of The Karate Kid. In 2012, Henson was in the large ensemble cast film Think Like A Man and reprised her role in its sequel.

Henson has also had an extensive career in television, having been a regular cast member on series such as The Division, Boston Legal and Eli Stone. From 2011 to 2013, she co-starred as Detective Jocelyn Carter in the CBS drama Person of Interest. As of 2015, she stars as Cookie Lyon on the Fox drama series Empire, for which she won a Critics' Choice Award and a Golden Globe Award, and nominated for two Emmy Awards.

In 2016, Time named Henson one of the 100 most influential people in the world on the annual Time 100 list. Henson also released an autobiography titled Around The Way Girl.[3] She is set to star in the NASA drama film Hidden Figures based on the life of Katherine Johnson.

Early life and education

Henson was born in Southeast Washington, D.C., the daughter of Bernice (née Gordon), a corporate manager at Woodward & Lothrop, and Boris Lawrence Henson,[4] a janitor and metal fabricator. Henson has often spoke of the influence of her maternal grandmother, Patsy Ballard, who was her date to the Academy Awards the year she was nominated.[5][6][7][8][9] Her first and middle names are of Swahili origin, "Taraji" meaning hope and "Penda" meaning love.[10][11] According to a mitochondrial DNA analysis, her matrilineal lineage can be traced to the Masa people of Cameroon.[12] She has said that North Pole explorer Matthew Henson is "the brother of my great-great grandfather."[13]

Henson graduated from Oxon Hill High School in Oxon Hill, Maryland, in 1988.[1] She then attended North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University where she studied electrical engineering before transferring to Howard University to study drama.[6][9] To pay for college, she worked mornings as a secretary at The Pentagon and evenings as a singing-dancing waitress on a dinner-cruise ship, the Spirit of Washington.[14]



Henson's breakthrough role was in the 2001 comedy drama film Baby Boy which she portrayed Yvette, alongside singer Tyrese Gibson.[15]

In 2005, Henson was in the independent film Hustle & Flow as Shug, the love interest of Terrence Howard, who portrayed the male lead DJay. The film was nominated for two Academy awards, winning one. In 2008, she appeared opposite Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.[16] Henson plays the role of Queenie, Benjamin's mother, in a performance that led to an Academy award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.[17] She noted in an interview that, "Queenie is the embodiment of unconditional love."[10][16]

Henson was 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 The Karate Kid alongside Jaden Smith. The film was a commercial success.[18]

In 2011, she starred as Tiffany Rubin in the Lifetime Movie Network film Taken from Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story. The film was based on true events of the life of a New York woman Tiffany Rubin, whose son Kobe was abducted by his biological father to South Korea. Determined to bring her son back home, she is helped by an organization for lost children which his headed by Mark Miller, portrayed by Terry O'Quinn, and with a plan they are able bring her son back home.[19] Henson's portrayal as Tiffany Rubin received positive reviews[20] which earned her several award nominations including a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie.[21]

In 2012, Henson was 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.[22]


Henson has guest-starred on several television shows, such as the WB Television Network's Smart Guy, playing the role of Mo'Nique (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.[1]

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. In 2011, Henson was cast in the CBS crime-suspense series Person of Interest.[23][24] 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.[25]

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.[26] Henson plays Cookie Lyon opposite former Hustle & Flow costar 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 and wide commercial success.[27][28] Her work as Cookie Lyon gave her widespread recognition and critical acclaim.[29][30][31] In July 2015, Henson was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, and she submitted show's Pilot for Emmy voting. In January 2016, Henson won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Drama for Empire becoming only the third African American actress to take home the award after Gail Fisher (1972) and Regina Taylor (1992).[32]

Other work

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".[14] 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.[33] Henson performed the song at the live Oscar ceremony on March 5, 2006, with the group.[34] Additionally, she performed the song "In My Daughter's Eyes" on the 2006 charity album Unexpected Dreams – Songs From the Stars.[35]

Henson has made several appearances in music videos and television. For example, she starred in the rapper Common's music video "Testify" in 2005 as the wife of a soon to be convicted murderer.[36] She also appeared in Tyrese Gibson's music video Stay as his love interest.[37]

On March 16, 2015, she was a guest co-host on Live! with Kelly and Michael filling in for regular co-host Kelly Ripa.[38]

Henson collaborated with MAC Cosmetics to launch Taraji P. Henson make up collection in late August, 2016. The #MACTaraji collection, with prices ranging from $17 to $42, was reported to be available online Sep. 6 and in select MAC stores on Sep. 8.[39]

Personal life

In 1994, Henson became pregnant and gave birth to her son Marcell.[40][41][42] His father, her high-school sweetheart, William Lamar Johnson, was murdered in 2003.[43][44]


In 2014, Henson said her son had been racially profiled by police and that his car had been illegally searched during a traffic stop that October 18 in Glendale, California. A video obtained by the Los Angeles Times showed Henson had driven through a lighted crosswalk while a pedestrian was crossing, given verbal consent to search his vehicle, and admitted to smoking marijuana two hours before driving. Hashish oil and marijuana were found inside his car.[42] Forty minutes after the video was made public,[42] Henson said in an Instagram message, "I would like to publicly apologize to the officer and the Glendale Police Department. A mother's job is not easy and neither is a police officer's."[45][46]


A supporter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Henson in January 2011 appeared nude in an ad for the I'd Rather Be Naked Than Wear Fur campaign.[47][48]

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. 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."[49]

In February 2015, Henson posed in an ad for the NOH8 Campaign, which supports the LGBT community.[50]



Year Title Role Notes
2000 The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle Left-Wing Student
2000 Satan's School for Girls Paige
2001 Baby Boy Yvette
2002 Enough Anna Hiller
2002 Book of Love: The Definitive Reason Why Men Are Dogs Date #4/Ghetto Girl
2004 Hair Show Tiffany
2005 Hustle & Flow Shug
2005 Four Brothers Camille Mercer
2005 Animal Ramona
2006 Something New Nedra
2007 Smokin' Aces Sharice Watters
2007 Talk to Me Vernell Watson
2008 The Family That Preys Pam Evans
2008 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Queenie
2009 Not Easily Broken Clarice Clark-Johnson
2009 Hurricane Season Dayna Collins
2009 I Can Do Bad All By Myself April Jones
2010 Date Night Detective Arroyo
2010 The Karate Kid Sherry Parker
2010 Peep World Mary
2010 Once Fallen Pearl
2011 The Good Doctor Nurse Theresa
2011 Taken from Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story[51] Tiffany Rubin
2011 Larry Crowne B'Ella
2011 Laugh at My Pain Taraji
2011 From the Rough Catana Starks
2012 Think Like a Man Lauren Harris
2013 Madly Madagascar Okapi Voice role
2014 Think Like a Man Too[22] Lauren Harris
2014 No Good Deed Terri Granger
2014 Top Five Herself
2016 Term Life Samantha Thurman
2016 Hidden Figures Katherine Johnson


Year(s) Title Role(s) Notes
1997–1998 Smart Guy Mo'Nique 3 episodes
1999 Sister, Sister Leslie Episode: "Two's Company"
1998 ER Elan Episode: "Split Second"
2001 Murder She Wrote: The Last Free Man Bess Pinckney Movie
2002–2004 The Division Inspector Washington 14 episodes
2004 All of Us Kim Episode: "In Through the Out Door"
2005 House Moira Episode: "Spin"
2006 CSI: Crime Scene Investigation Christina Episode: "I Like to Watch"
2007–2008 Boston Legal Whitney Rome 17 episodes
2008 Eli Stone Angela Scott 3 episodes in season 2
2010 The Cleveland Show Chanel Williams (voice) Episode: "Brotherly Love"
Person of Interest Detective Jocelyn "Joss" Carter 55 episodes
2014 Season Of Love Jackie Lifetime movie
2015–present Empire Cookie Lyon Main role
2015 Saturday Night Live Herself/host Episode: "Taraji P. Henson/Mumford & Sons"
2015 Live! with Kelly and Michael Herself/co-host March 16 episode
2016 Ice Age: The Great Egg-Scapade Ethel (voice) Special

Awards and nominations

Year Nominated work Association Category Result Ref.
2002 Baby Boy Black Reel Awards Best Actress Nominated [52]
2006 Hustle & Flow BET Awards Best Actress Won
Black Reel Awards Best Supporting Actress Won [53]
Black Reel Awards Best Ensemble Nominated [54]
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture Nominated [55]
Four Brothers Black Reel Awards Best Ensemble Nominated [56]
2008 Talk to Me NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture Nominated [57]
2010 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Austin Film Critics Association Best Supporting Actress Won [58]
BET Awards Best Actress Won [59]
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture Won [60]
Academy Awards Best Supporting Actress Nominated [61]
Black Reel Awards Best Supporting Actress Nominated [62]
Screen Actors Guild Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role Nominated [63]
Screen Actors Guild Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture Nominated [63]
2010 I Can Do Bad All By Myself Black Reel Awards Best Actress Nominated [64]
2011 Taken from Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story BET Awards Best Actress Won
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special Won [65]
Black Reel Awards Best Actress: TV Movie/Cable Won [66]
Satellite Awards Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film Nominated [67]
2015 NAACP Image Awards Entertainer of the Year Won [68]
No Good Deed NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture Won [68]
Empire BET Awards Best Actress Won [69]
Critics' Choice Television Awards Best Actress in a Drama Series Won [70]
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Nominated [71]
Teen Choice Awards Choice TV Actress: Drama Nominated [72]
Teen Choice Awards Choice TV: Chemistry (shared with Trai Byers, Bryshere Y. Gray, Terrence Howard & Jussie Smollett) Nominated
Television Critics Association Individual Achievement in Drama Nominated [73]
2016 Critics' Choice Television Awards Best Actress in a Drama Series Nominated [74]
Golden Globe Awards Best Actress – Television Series Drama Won [75]
Shorty Awards Best Actress Won [76]
BET Awards Best Actress Won
Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Nominated [77]
2017 People's Choice Awards Favorite Dramatic TV Actress Pending [78]


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External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Taraji P. Henson.
Preceded by
Michael Keaton
Saturday Night Live host
April 11, 2015
Succeeded by
Scarlett Johansson
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