• UPD Team

Taraji P. Henson - Never Be Afraid To Reinvent Yourself

Updated: Aug 31, 2018

"Wherever it is I’m going in this business, I’m not there yet,” Taraji says, laughing. “Who wants to come to Hollywood and be on the B list? I want the A list!” I think it’s safe to say, Taraji P. Henson has made the A list and then some. From holding yard sales to make ends meet, Taraji is now building an Empire. 

How did this super sexy, single mom from Washington DC do it?

Born, Taraji Penda Henson to Mother Bernice Gordon and Father Boris Henson, life didn’t come without its challenges for Taraji.

Henson’s mother, Bernice Gordon, worked for a Washington area department store chain, Woodward & Lothrop, in a distribution center. Taraji’s father, Boris Henson, was a maintenance man at Bolling Air Force Base. He earned extra money after hours, putting security bars on houses.

Taraji’s parents split when she was a toddler. She and her mom were living in a run - down three-story apartment when her mother was robbed at gunpoint on her way home. In a separate attack, a thief smashed her mother’s face, detaching a retina, as she and 9-year-old Taraji were getting into their car.

Taraji’s father, Boris Henson fell into homelessness. Despite his challenges he’d pick his daughter up from school whenever he could. Taraji recalls in a recent interview that they’d ride around, laughing and making plans for the future. Boris Henson remarried and has played a major role in his daughter’s career.

As a young girl and only child, Henson had a wildly creative imagination.  She was also often disruptive in school and was considered “a class clown”.

Taraji became interested in pursuing an acting career in middle school when she joined the drama club. She would participate in productions throughout her time in middle school. Henson first found the need to reinvent herself when she applied to the Duke Ellington School for the Arts and was rejected. She was crushed; So much so that she decided to change her career path after High School enrolling at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University to study to be an electrical engineer. Again, Taraji’s hopes and dreams where crushed when she failed pre-calculus. Feeling hopeless, it was Taraji’s Father that stepped in and stepped up. Taraji’s father encouraged his daughter to reinvent herself. Back on track, Taraji pursued her true passion home in DC at Howard University’s theater program. After sitting out a year, Taraji worked in the morning as a receptionist at the Pentagon. Yes, THE PENTAGON. She went to school during the afternoon and worked as a singing waitress on a cruise ship at night. All things seemed to be moving in the direction Henson wanted until her junior year. As we all know, just when you think you have it figured out, God shows you who is REALLY running the show.

Taraji go'n Hollywood

Things had gotten so bad at one point that Henson refused to go to a Saturday morning audition for the role that, unbeknownst to her, would change her career, the Oscar-nominated part of Queenie in “Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” The garage sale she had scheduled was about paying bills and it seemed more promising.

“I had wig heads with hats, jewelry — it was a serious garage sale. I was very annoyed I had to cancel it to go to an audition.” Says Henson”.

Photo Credit: awardcircut.com

“It never really occurred to me that I wouldn’t make it out here." 

“Now, did the interim seem rreeeeaaalllly long?” She laughs. “Yeah. Yes. Sure.”

Here’s how Henson finally became a star. About the time “The Division” was wrapping up, John Singleton was filming “Four Brothers,” a drama set in in Detroit, with Mark Wahlberg as the headliner.

Henson convinced Singleton to give her a tiny part in the film. What Henson did not know is that Singleton was also helping produce “Hustle & Flow,” an independent film set in Memphis, is about a pimp with dreams of being a rap star. Terrence Howard was the leading actor, and he was intent on actress   Meagan Good playing the part of Shug, a not-too-smart prostitute with the proverbial heart of gold.

Singleton preferred Henson for the role, sent her the script, and she eventually blew everyone away during auditions for the part. In the resulting film, Henson has “that moment “; when anyone watching can clearly see that a star is being born.  Howard, the pimp, is in the process of laying down tracks for his big song. Shug, finally gets to contribute and has already recorded her part, gets a pair of headphones and listens as the engineer played by Blackish Star Anthony Anderson, plays it back. It is the first time shug has ever heard the power of her own voice.

The camera comes in tight on her face. Shug raises her eyebrows, wrinkles appear in her forehead. Her hand comes slowly to her mouth. Her eyes dart back and forth. She is in awe, if not in love, with her own performance. THAT IS MOMENT TARAJI P. HENSON BECAME A STAR!

The difference between Henson and her on-screen personas could not be more different. in film, she often portrays hard-luck, rough around the edges types. In person, she’s funnier, softer and prettier than those roles would suggest. She’s a girly girl with a serious shoe fetish and an unmistakable love for motherhood. Four letter words (profanity) is no stranger to Taraji’s vocabulary and she weaves in out of its use with the fluidity of a gazelle in full gallop. She’s never been married and says that dating in Hollywood isn’t what most people think it is.. (“I meet guys who are infatuated with me or what I do, but actual relationships are difficult.”) 

At first glance, you might chalk Henson up to being your typical Hollywood Diva. You would be sadly mistaken. Henson is a true rag to riches story who has found it necessary to reinvent herself several times over and would encourage us all to Never Be Afraid To Reinvent Yourself.

Taraji P. Henson most recent  project is the FOX TV drama EMPIRE.

Empire is an American musical drama television series which debuted on Fox on January 7, 2015. The show centers around a hip hop music and entertainment company, Empire Enterprises, and the drama among the

members of the founders’ family as they fight for control of the company. The hour-long family drama was created by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, and stars Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson. In January 2015, the series was renewed for a second season.

Fast Facts

Birth Name: Taraji Penda Henson

Birth Place: Washington, DC

Birthday: September 11, 1970, Virgo

Profession: Actor

College:North Carolina A&T State University, 

Greensboro, NC; Howard University, DC 

(BA in Fine Arts, 1995)

•Originally pursued an electrical engineering degree at North

Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, but switched to

acting---and to Howard University---after failing pre-calculus.

•Worked her way through Howard as a Pentagon receptionist by

day and a singing/dancing waitress on a dinner cruise at night.

•Began landing TV work in the late 1990s, first with small parts

on ER and Smart Guy, and later with recurring roles on The

Division and Boston Legal. 

•Breakout role came with hip-hop drama Hustle & Flow (2005),

in which she played the prostitute Shug and performed the

Oscar-winning song “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.”

•Hustle role brought Henson to the attention of the casting

director for David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin

Button (2008), in which Henson gave an acclaimed performance

as the title character’s adopted mother, Queenie.


•2005, Screen Actors Guild Awards,Outstanding Performance by a

Cast in a Motion Picture: Nominee

•2007, Screen Actors Guild Awards,

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series:


•2008, Screen Actors Guild Awards,

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a

Supporting Role: Nominee

•2008, Screen Actors Guild Awards, Outstanding

Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture: Nominee

•2008, Screen Actors Guild Awards ,Outstanding

Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series: Nominee

•2008, Oscar,Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Nominee

•2011, Emmy, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie: Nominee

•2011, Black Reel Awards, Won Best Actress: TV Movie/Cable

•2011, Screen Actors Guild Awards,Outstanding Performance by a

Cast in a Motion Picture: Nominee

•2011, NAACP Image Awards Entertainer of the Tear: Won

•2011, NAACP Outstanding Motion Picture: Won

•2015, BET Awards, Best Actress: Won

•2015, Critics' Choice Awards, Best Actress in a Drama Series: Won

•2015, Primetime Emmy Awards, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series: Nominated

•2016, Golden Globe Awards, Best Actress - Television Series Drama: Won

•2016, NAACP Image Awards, Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series: Won

•2017, BET Awards, Best Actress: Won

•2017, MTV Movie & TV Awards, Best Performance in a Movie: Won


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