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Did You Know: Taraji P. Henson Was A Musical Theatre Major

Yes, you read that correctly. Taraji P. Henson, who portrays the ambitious, no-nonsense Cookie Lyon on Fox’s hit show Empire, was a Musical Theatre Major at Howard University.

Henson joins the list of notable Howard Alum in the same program such as Phylicia Rashad, Debbie Allen, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Chadwick Boseman, Isaiah Washington and Anthony Anderson (whom she attended Howard with at the same time!)

Henson always knew she wanted to go into acting she just had to find her moment. After getting rejected from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington DC, she thought it meant her calling wasn’t acting and upon graduation enrolled at North Carolina A&T to major in Electrical Engineering. However, after failing Pre-Calc she realized that acting was where she needed tTaraji-P-Henson-TBT_Rolling-Out-Joi-Pearson-3o be, she told Vanity Fair;

Well, I was always a ham. I didn’t really get serious about [acting] until college. I auditioned for a performing arts high school, didn’t get accepted, and I thought that meant I couldn’t act. So I never acted again until I failed Pre-Calc in college. I decided I was going to try Electrical Engineering. That sounded good, it just sounded good! So I failed, and thank God I did because it forced me to study what I really wanted to, and that was acting.

She transferred to Howard University to major in Musical Theatre and we’re so grateful we didn’t lose her to the sciences. During her college days she was student by day, cruise singer by night.

Yes. I put myself through college. I worked at the Pentagon during the early part of the day, the middle part of the day I went to school full-time, and at night I was a singing-dancing waitress on this small dinner cruise called the Spirit of Washington.

Taraji and Mom

A young Taraji P. Henson and her mother, Bernice Gordon.

Henson has been one of my favorite actresses for a long time (and not just because she also hails from the DMV, like myself). Her hustle and dedication to the business is just amazing, and I just love watching her get all the attention and love that she deserves. While she is most known for her film and TV roles such as Baby Boy, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (which earned her an Oscar nod), Hustle & Flow, and now the cult hit Empire–Henson is no stranger to the stage; after all she majored in Theatre. In 2013, she was apart of the August Wilson‘s American Century Cycle readings at The Greene Space in NYC. Making her Wilson debut as Molly Cunningham in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone directed by Phylicia Rashad.

She was last seen in Pasadena Playhouse’s Above The Fold last winter, to which she received great reviews.

From the Pasadena Playhouse website:

Jane, an African-American newspaper reporter from New York, flies to a Southern university where three white fraternity members have been accused of raping a young African-American woman. Taking place amidst the shift from print to digital journalism, ABOVE THE FOLD asks tough questions about the exploitation of tragedy, the cost of success and the dangers that come when ambition collides with truth.

Did I also mention she sings and the woman has got some serious pipes on her. You saw Hustle & Flow, right? That was Henson providing vocals, which lead to her performing the Oscar winning song “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp.” live at the Oscars. One of the greatest performances in Oscar history, in my opinion. Personally, I think Henson should just appease me by making her way over to the Great White Way in a revival of something, anything that allows her to show-off those pipes.

Check out Henson’s singing skills below and sound off in the comments.


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