Taraji P. Henson was born on September 11, 1970 in Washington, D.C. to a working class family. As a teenager Henson applied to a performing arts high school but unfortunately she didn’t get accepted. Instead she attended Oxon Hill High School and graduated in 1988. She went to North Carolina Agricultural & Technical University and majored in Electrical Engineering. She decided to transfer to Howard University after failing Pre-Calculus and began studying Theater. While working two-jobs, Henson earned herself a “Triple Threat Scholarship” for her skills in acting, singing and dancing. During her Junior year of college, she found out she was pregnant with her son. She was determined to continue on with everything she was doing while in school and in 1995 she graduated college with her son there cheering her on.
In 1996, Henson and her son moved to Los Angeles so she could pursue a professional acting career. She had just $700 in her bank account at the time. After two years of auditioning while also working an office job to make ends meet, she landed her first professional acting gig, a recurring role on the television show Smart Guy. Her ground breaking performance came in 2001 when she starred in John Singleton’s ‘Baby Boy’ as Jody’s (Tyreese Gibson) girlfriend and baby mother. Her performance lead to another major role as Shug in ‘Hustle and Flow’. She even sang “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp” on the films soundtrack. The track won a 2004 Academy Award for Best Song. Henson went on to land main parts in Smokin’ Aces and Talk to Me.
A challenging role as the adoptive mother to Brad Pitt’s character in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button highlighted Henson’s versatility as an actress, earning her both Screen Actors Guild and Academy Award nominations. In 2015, Henson returned to television with Empire, a Hip-Hop take on the soap opera format that’s generated huge buzz. She stars as Cookie Lyon, the ex-wife of music industry titan Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard). Cookie seeks to claim her share of her ex-husband’s business after serving 17 years in prison. Her character quickly emerged as a fan favorite for her cutting remarks and flashy fashions and the show became one of the year’s big breakout hits. In 2015, Henson was nominated for an Emmy for Lead Actress in a Drama for her work on the show and early the following year won a Golden Globe, her first.