Queen, Latifah, Kennedy Center Honors, Dana Owens, Dionne Warwick, Debbie Allen, first female rapper

Queen Latifah First Female Rapper To Be Kennedy Center Honoree

Queen Latifah got her flowers.

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

The Grammy award-winning rapper was among five recipients celebrated at the 46th annual Kennedy Center Honors in Washington D.C. Along with Latifah, honorees included vocalists and songwriters Dionne Warwick, Renée Fleming, and Barry Gibb, along with actor/comedian/filmmaker Billy Crystal.

Held annually to celebrate the honoree’s contributions to American culture, President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff led the event held at the White House. Robert De Niro honored Billy Crystal and Missy Elliott recaled the impact of Queen Latifah’s feminist anthem, “Ladies First,” in the hip-hop world.

Former honoree Rita Moreno introduced Latifah. Actress Kerry Washington and Elliott followed up with testimonies praising Latifah in a lively set started by 4-year-old social media phenomenon and rapper Van Van. MCLyte, Monie Love, Yo-Yo, and D-Nice performed “Latifah’s Had It Up to Here”, rapper Rapsody performed “Poetry Man,” followed by gospel groups the Clark Sisters and Rev. Stef & Jubilation who sang “You Brought the Sunshine”.

Washington shared Queen Latifah’s origin story, when 8-year-old Dana Elaine Owens “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,” Washington said. “And in doing so, this young black woman from East Orange, New Jersey, crafted the lens through which the world would forever see her.”

For Dionne Warwick, past honoree Debbie Allen introduced an A-list lineup of artists to comment and perform some of Warwick’s classic hits, including Mickey Guyton and The Spinners, who performed “Then Came You”; Cynthia Erivo sang “Alfie”; Chloe Bailey sang “Walk on By”; and Gladys Knight performed a rendition of “Say a Little Prayer.”

Others who paid tribute to the honorees included Jay Leno, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Whoopi Goldberg.

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