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Queen Latifah Becomes the First Female Rapper to Receive Kennedy Center Honors

The official 46th Annual Kennedy Center Honors class photo is here. Billy Crystal, Renée Fleming, Barry Gibb, Dionne Warwick, and Queen Latifah.
Image via Mary Kouw / CBS

Queen Latifah is officially the first rapper to be a Kennedy Center honoree.

In a star-studded celebration of cultural contributions, the 46th annual Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C., witnessed the crowning of Queen Latifah among other distinguished honorees. The illustrious event, led by President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden at the White House, brought together an array of talent to pay tribute to these iconic figures.

Grammy award-winning rapper Queen Latifah stood tall among the honorees, celebrated for her indelible mark on American culture. With his signature charisma, Robert De Niro paid homage to comedian and filmmaker Billy Crystal. Missy Elliott also reflected on the groundbreaking impact of Queen Latifah’s feminist anthem, “Ladies First.”

In a lively and diverse set, 4-year-old social media sensation Van Van kicked off the proceedings, setting the stage for Kerry Washington and Missy Elliott to share their testimonials. Washington took the audience back to Latifah’s origin story, recounting how a young Dana Elaine Owens (Queen Latifah’s birth name), at the age of 8, chose the name Latifah, meaning gentle, kind, and pleasant. Washington highlighted the pivotal moment at 17 when Latifah added the title “Queen” to her moniker, shaping the lens through which the world would forever see her.

The musical journey celebrating Queen Latifah continued with performances by MCLyte, Monie Love, Yo-Yo, and D-Nice, who delivered an electrifying rendition of Latifah’s “Had It Up to Here.” Rapsody followed with a soulful performance of “Poetry Man,” while the gospel groups the Clark Sisters and Rev. Stef & Jubilation stirred hearts with “You Brought the Sunshine.”

The timeless elegance of Dionne Warwick was also honored with equal enthusiasm. Introduced by past honoree Debbie Allen, Warwick’s classic hits came alive through a stellar lineup of artists. Mickey Guyton and The Spinners graced the stage with “Then Came You,” Cynthia Erivo soulfully sang “Alfie,” Chloe Bailey serenaded with “Walk on By,” and the legendary Gladys Knight took the audience on a journey with “Say a Little Prayer.”

As Jay Leno, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Whoopi Goldberg joined the chorus of voices paying tribute to the honorees, the Kennedy Center Honors once again proved to be a night of sheer brilliance, celebrating the lasting impact of Queen Latifah and Dionne Warwick on the fabric of American culture.


Fharnell M.