NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 26: Taraji P. Henson visits Build series to discuss their film "Acrimony" at Build Studio on March 26, 2018 in New York City.

Taraji P. Henson has made herself a household name by continuing to portray a number of iconic characters. Her big break was in 2001 for her first feature film Baby Boy. She starred as Yvette alongside Tyrese Gibson, who played Joseph “Jody” Summers. Their tumultuous relationship has been referenced in film, music, and television since then.

While Baby Boy was her big break, she began her career after her studies at Howard and took on small screen roles. She starred in guest roles on Sister, Sister, Smart Guy, Saved By The Bell, and more.

Other Roles

She’s been in other television roles after Baby Boy, such as Half & Half, House, and All of Us, before landing her lead role in FOX’s Empire. The FOX show is one of Henson’s prominent roles, where she played alongside Hustle & Flow costar Terrance Howard. The Washington D.C. native played the role of Cookie Lyon, the ex of Lucious Lyon, played by Howard. The Lyon family had a lot of drama going on behind the scenes, which many times affected how they ran their record label and entertainment company. Henson was known for her explosive scenes, and it was even pitched that her character get a spin-off. However, FOX decided not to move forward with the series.

While we know that Henson can capture a scene with her acting ability, she has also shown off her singing skills several times on screen. The first time was for her role in Hustle & Flow , which was released in 2005. Henson lent her vocals on the song “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” which later won Best Original Song for Three 6 Mafia. She and Three 6 Mafia performed it at the Academy Awards, where it was the second hip-hop song to win an Oscar.

Take a look below at some of Henson’s best roles that show off her acting and singing ability below:

  • 8. I Can Do Bad All By Myself (2009)

    In the Tyler Perry film, I Can Do Bad All By Myself, Taraji plays the role of April, who works as an alcoholic lounge singer and has now taken the responsibility of taking care of her niece and nephew. In this film, Taraji had to channel a lot of emotion due to the sensitive material in the movie, and it was one of the first times we really got to see her dig deep as a lead character. She worked alongside Mary J. Blige, Adam Rodriguez, Brian White, Gladys Knight, Marvin L. Winans, and Tyler Perry as Madea. This was the second time she had worked with Tyler Perry. Prior to I Can Do Bad All By Myself, she worked on The Family That Preys and later worked with him on Acrimony in 2018.

  • 7. Abbott Elementary

    While Taraji is not a main character on ABC’s Abbott Elementary, her portrayal as Janine’s mom was amazing. Janine is played by the show creator Quinta Brunson, who is an elementary school teacher in Philadelphia. When Vendetta (played by Taraji) makes an unexpected visit to town, their mother-and-daughter relationship is put on display for Janine’s coworkers to analyze. Abbott Elementary stars Tyler James Williams, Lisa Ann Walter, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Janelle James, Chris Perfetti, and William Stanford Davis. She is nominated for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series at the 2023 Emmy Awards, which has since been postponed due to 2024.

  • 6. Empire (2015-2020)

    Whether you loved or loathed the FOX series Empire, Cookie Lyons, aka Taraji P. Henson, showed up ready to kill each scene she was in. Taraji played opposite of her Hustle & Flow costar Terrance Howard, as well as Jussie Smollett, Trai Byers, Bryshere Y. Gray, Serayah McNeill, Grace Byers, and more. The series starts off with Cookie returning from prison after taking the fall for Lucious (Howard), who has since made a successful record label. The family battles behind the scenes as they uphold their ever-growing empire. The show was one of the most successful shows on FOX when it launched in 2015, having 17 million viewers for its first season finale. A spin-off with Taraji’s character Cookie was pitched in 2020 but was evidently axed altogether. Taraji was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series at the 2016 Emmy Awards.

  • 5. Annie Live! (2021)

    Taraji starred as Miss Hannigan, the antagonist in the storyline, who is the head of the orphanage where Annie and other young girls live. What was unique about this role for Taraji was that the audience got to hear her vocals live, and she did not disappoint. The live musical production starred Harry Connick Jr., Nicole Scherzinger, Grace Farrell, Tituss Burgess, Megan Hilty, and Celina Smith as Annie. Taraji won an NAACP Award for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Limited Series or Dramatic Special for her role in the live musical.

  • 4. Hustle & Flow (2005)

    Taraji appeared as Shug, a prostitute in the 2005 film Hustle & Flow who is the love interest of DJay played by Terrance Howard. The film also stars Anthony Anderson, Taryn Manning, Paula Jai Parker, Elise Neal, DJ Qualls, and Ludacris. DJay, who is both a pimp and drug dealer, wants to leave his life and begin his career as a rap star. Taraji’s character is pregnant in the movie and provides an outstanding performance of her character’s strength among the chaos. She also sings for the first time in the film. The film won an Oscar for Best Original Song for Three 6 Mafia’s “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” at the 2006 Academy Awards which Taraji lent her vocals to the song. Howard was also nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role.

  • 3. Hidden Figures (2016)

    Taraji played Katherine G. Johnson, a NASA icon in the biographical drama film Hidden Figures (2016). Johnson died in 2020. Taraji played alongside Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae, who also played the roles of Black mathematicians who were vital during the “Space Race” between the United States and The Soviet Union. Spencer played Dorothy Vaughn, who died in 2008, and Monáe portrayed Mary Jackson, who died in 2005. Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, and Glen Powell also starred in the film. The film was nominated for Best Motion Picture of the Year at the 2017 Academy Awards.

  • 2. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

    In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Taraji plays Queenie Benjamin’s mother in the film after his biological mother dies during childbirth. The 2008 film stars Brad Pitt (as Benjamin Button), Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, Julia Ormond, Faune Chambers Watkins, and more. She earned an Oscar nomination for her portrayal for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role at the 2009 Oscars.

  • 1. Baby Boy (2001)

    One of the first films that comes to mind when you mention Taraji P. Henson is Baby Boy. The 2001 film was her breakout role in film, where she portrayed Yvette. The John Singleton-directed film is a coming-of-age story starring Tyrese Gibson as Joseph “Jody” Summers, who is a bike mechanic in Los Angeles. The film also marks Gibson’s acting debut. The film also stars Snoop Dogg, Ving Rhames, Omar Gooding, and A.J. Johnson. Baby Boy is a classic and continues to be used in the culture. In the cover art of Offset and Cardi B’s “Jealousy,” the song references an iconic scene in the film between Taraji and Tyrese. Taraji also was used in the promotion of the song before its release in July.

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