Latifah's Long Reign

Actress/recording artist Queen Latifah arrives at the premiere of "Hairspray" with a welcome Home Celebration For Queen Latifah at the New Jersey Performance Arts Center on July 17, 2007 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images) Getty Images

During a recent walk through New York's Central Park, CBS Sunday Morning Correspondent Rita Braver asked actress and musician Queen Latifah, when she first started feeling comfortable with herself.

"Around 18," she answered, "I just accepted my body for what it was, and learned to love it."

And why shouldn't she love it. Her queen-sized build - and her queen-sized talent - have brought Queen Latifah fame and fortune from her early days as a rapper to her movie career, in films like "Beauty Shop" and "Hairspray."

And now, in her latest gig, as a singer of classic romance songs.

Braver asked Queen Latifah about her role as an advocate for "big is beautiful."

"I feel like this is who I am," Latifah told herm, "If I feel like training and dropping some pounds for my health, I'll do that. If I eat a little extra mac and cheese, hey, it was good!"

Queen Latifah is all about confidence! Her new album, "Trav'lin Light," is out this week, with songs made famous by other artists.

The title song, in fact, was previously recorded by the likes of Billie Holiday and Shirley Horn.

"Do you get nervous when you're recording songs that other people made famous?" Braver asked Latifah.

"Not really," she answered, "because I just do my own version of it, you know?"

But then, she has always done things her way. At age 8 little Dana Owens started calling herself "Latifah," a name she says is Arabic for "gentle oone, delicate, sensitive, nice."

She added "Queen" when she started rapping professionally.

"My first single came out when I was 17," recounted Latifah, "and I signed my contract and my album came out when I was 18."

"You really were one of the first female rappers to sort of give it back to the guys, right back in their face," Braver observed.

"I think I did, in a way," Latifah agreed.

Queen Latifah herself may have felt like royalty, but that's not always the reception she got at home.

Braver spoke with Queen Latifah's mother, Rita Owens, and asked her if she was a little skeptical when her daughter first anointed herself with the title "queen."

"Absolutely," Owens laughed, "I was like, 'Queen'? Oh, okay, right. Your peers are gonna call you 'Queen'?"

Her daughter's success though, turned Owens into a believer.

"Did you know," Braver asked, "when she was a little girl, that she was really gonna, you know, break out?"

"Of course," Owens answered, "I'm a mother. She did show signs of talent, talent, talent, early in life, so I always figured Broadway, though I had no clue that it would be this massive."

Latifah's parents divorced when she was ten and Rita Owens beca,e a single mom raising two children. Now age 37, when Latifah goes back to visit her old haunts in New Jersey, she realizes how driven she was to succeed.

"We all wanted to create businesses and sort of get our families outta the 'hood, if you will. You know, sort of move up, through the typical American dream, so to speak."

And boy did that dream come true! Just as her music career was taking off, in 1991, director Spike Lee tapped her for her first film role, in "Jungle Fever."

She played a waitress, who frowns on Wesley Snipes' choice of dates and minces no words in telling him what she thinks.

"You were noticed in that little role," Braver commented.

"Yeah," Latifah laughed, "well, it was quite a scene."

Her music and movie careers were soaring and there was plenty to celebrate for Latifah and her family - her mother, and older brother Lance. But suddenly that family was shattered when Lance was killed in a motorcycle accident.

"I would definitely call it a depression," Latifah told Braver. "I mean, I thought I was going crazy for a minute, like I felt so disconnected from just normal life. You know, because we were so close. And you just do not expect something like that to touch you that closely."

Her music got her through, and one of the songs she dedicated to her brother won a Grammy.

"And it was like, okay. I hope this wasn't the plan, that I needed to trade this for this. Because I don't want any of that if it was the case. Give me my brother and keep all this success and this other stuff."

Gradually, she worked through her sorrow - in part by staying close to her family and her roots. She says she still feels most comfortable on the East Coast.

"I just love being home. I love the energy here. Our pace is quicker ... you gotta be on your toes a little more."

But she is a major Hollywood star, nominated for an Academy Award playing a singing prison Matron in "Chicago."

Another mega hit was "Bringing Down the House," with Latifah playing an ex-con who fools Steve Martin into making a blind date with her via e-mail.

She was executive producer of that one. In fact, she owns her own production company and today, even the former Dana Owens marvels at the persona she created.

"You know, me and Queen Latifah used to be the same person. And then somewhere along the line, she got much bigger than me. She became a corporation and a company and she became a brand."

But even with her high profile image, as a spokeswoman for "Covergirl" and for "Curvation," a clothing and lingerie line, Queen Latifah has managed to keep her personal life out of the news.

When Braver asked her if there was a significant other in her life, she preferred to keep that to herself.

"No comment," Latifah said, laughing. "I've learned finally, shut up about it already. I'm going to follow those instructions that I've given myself and stick to it."

She did say though that she might like to someday become a parent.

"Become a parent," Braver asked. "Anything you want to announce here?"

"No, nothing to announce," Latifah assured her.

And for right now, just being Queen Latifah is pretty cool.

"You really are the queen of everything!" Braver told her.

"I like to consider myself more a renaissance woman, if you will," Latifah answered, "No, I don't know about the queen of everything, but I've enjoyed doing what I do and having a chance to explore different avenues."
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