Queen Latifah Makes History as First Woman Rapper to Earn Prestigious Kennedy Center Honors Award


by Veracity Savant

December 5, 2023

She’s still paving the way for women in hip-hop!

Celebrities gathered in the nation’s capital this weekend for the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors Award, NPR reports. President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden welcomed the Honorees with a reception at The White House and a dinner hosted by the State Department before the main event. Among the honorees were actor and comedian Billy Crystal, soprano performer Renée Fleming, British singer-songwriter Barry Gibb, and artist Queen Latifah, who made history as the first woman rapper to earn the award. 

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Fellow rappers Missy Elliott, Rapsody, M.C. Lyte, and Monie Love all came to celebrate Latifah. Known for her empowering hits like “U.N.I.T.Y.” and “Ladies First,” Latifah was one of the first to empower women in the hip-hop genre and paved the way for many others to come behind her. Actress Kerry Washington presented Latifah with the prestigious honor, reflecting on the New Jersey’s native upbringing and how it shaped her artistry. 

“[When Dana Elaine Owens was just 8 years old, she] flipped through a book of names and chose one as her own: Latifah, an Arabic name meaning gentle, kind, and pleasant. This is how she saw herself. And then at age 17, when it was time to create her professional moniker, she added the title Queen. And in doing so, this young Black woman from East Orange, New Jersey, crafted the lens through which the world would forever see her,” said Washington. 

Also awarded alongside Latifah was legendary songstress Dionne Warwick. Over the course of her six decade career, Warwick has become known for her pop hits and her activism, becoming one of the first to raise awareness about the AIDS epidemic. Chloe Bailey and Gladys Knight performed in honor of Warwick at the gala with 2021 Kennedy Center Honoree, Debbie Allen, presenting Warwick with the award. 


Latifah took to social media to share the momentous occasion and excerpts from her speech. In it, she expressed her deep gratitude while giving honor to Warwick, her fellow awardees, business partner, friends, family, and peers in music. 

“I’m going to take this in for a moment. This is very surreal. I want to thank the Kennedy Center so much…I live my life in the moment. That’s the only way I can get through. What I do is to be right there when I’m doing it and just be present and I’m in this right now. I don’t know what I’m gonna think about this tomorrow or what happened yesterday, but right now I’m here with you in this moment, and I’m so very grateful,” said Latifah. 

The Kennedy Center Honors is the nation’s highest award for a performer. In 2017, LL Cool J made history as the first hip-hop artist and younger performer ever to be given the honor. Other past honorees include Motown founder Berry Gordy, Gladys Knight, and Earth, Wind, & Fire, who made history as the first Black musical group to be given the award.


Cover photo: Queen Latifah Makes History as First Woman Rapper to Earn Prestigious Kennedy Center Honors Award/Photo by Scott Suchman/The Kennedy Center

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