Taraji P. Henson, the ‘single momma,’ the phenomenal actress, the powerhouse singer, and a growing pop-culture icon. She started in the entertainment industry in 1997, playing small roles in popular TV series like The Parent ‘Hood, Sister, Sister, Saved by the Bell: The New Class, Smart Guy, and many more. Taraji finally made a break through when she starred as Yvette in the 2001 comedy-drama Baby Boy. Since then, Taraji has starred in several TV series and movies, has received several award nominations and has won over 16 of them. Although her resume is robust, it seems like she hasn’t received the recognition she truly deserves. Now that the starlet plays the total bad ass Cookie Lyon on Fox’s new hit musical drama Empire, the world can’t get of enough of her! Throughout her years in the entertainment industry, Taraji’s numerous roles have required that she constantly alternate between her natural curls and straightened strands. From voluptuous twist-outs to romantic curls and bobs, Henson’s hair has been just as varied as her roles.
Taraji’s Early Years
On September 11, 1970, Bernice Gordon and Boris Lawrence Henson became proud parents of a beautiful baby girl they named Taraji P. Henson. Taraji was born into a working-class family and raised in southeast Washington, D.C. Shortly after Henson’s parents divorced, her father, was laid off and had to live out of a van, but he remained her main source of moral support during her upbringing. As a toddler, Taraji’s hair was put in classic pigtails with bow-ties and ribbons to add flair. As she got older, she played around with her hair; she would straighten her hair and wear it flipped up. She would also wear her hair in a bowl cut, or in her own words, a “mushroom” cut. As she attended high school, Taraji experimented with her hair by lightening it and getting asymmetrical hairstyles.
After struggling with electrical engineering at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, she transferred over to Howard University to major in theater and acting. At Howard, she worked mornings as a secretary at The Pentagon and nights as a singing-dancing waitress for the dinner-cruise ship. During her junior year in college, Taraji became pregnant and gave birth to her son Marcel in 1994. The father of her son was her high-school sweetheart (William Johnson), but he was tragically murdered in 1997. Despite the challenges and pitfalls of her early life, Henson managed to earn her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1995.
*Fun fact: Taraji P. Henson is a great-great-cousin of the first African- American North Pole Explorer Matthew Henson.
Taraji & Television
From 1997 through 2000 Henson racked up 13 TV credits, guest starring in a variety of shows with a variety of different looks. She played Mo’Nique on The Disney Channel’s Smart Guy who was the epitome of 90s cool, wearing her hair in a pulled back ponytail with two wispy strands framing her face.
With a growing repertoire of work, Taraji was able to land much bigger roles on popular shows such as House, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, The Cleveland Show and Boston Legal where she sported severe blunt bangs, playing no-nonsense lawyer Whitney Rome.
Taraji on the Big Screen
In 2008 Taraji was nominated for for Best Supporting Actress Oscar in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but her path to getting there wasn’t necessarily a smooth ride. She began adding film roles to her résumé in 2000 when she played Yvette in Baby Boy, but it would take four years for her film career to really pick up the pace. After 2005, she played in a number of films, including Hustle & Flow and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the later for which she earned an Academy Award nomination. Henson also made her singing debut in Hustle & Flow, where she provided vocals for Three 6 Mafia in the song, “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.”
Only in Hollywood can a hearty body of work be overlooked for years. It’s seems like Henson is only now having her moment, playing Cookie Lyon on Fox’s Empire. It’s hard not to love Cookie for her personality and everything she has been through. Cookie is an incredibly determined, strong, fierce, and caring woman who keeps it real. She puts her family first, and will never compromise herself in order to succeed. Cookie is raw nerve, and she says things that many people may not have the guts to say. Along with her courage, Cookie has a ‘boss woman’ wardrobe. The matriarch of the Lyon family can be seen wearing fur coats, leopard suits, thigh-high boots, and other luxurious clothing that would make anyone envious of her style.
Taraji is a Super Woman
Taraji is what the industry calls a journey actress. Her rise has been steady and not without its challenges. During the start of her career she was able to earn a college degree, work several jobs, and move herself to California to pursue her dream. She raised her now 20 year-old son without a farther, no job, and a small amount of money to live on, but those hurdles didn’t stop her. She’s a walking example of perseverance and patience. In a time when we all want what we want and want it now, Henson’s story exemplifies the well-known adage, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Her story also says a lot about recognition and the fact that good work isn’t always acknowledged. But a diamond unseen is no less a diamond. Taraji is and has always been a gem and now more people are able to see it.