Queen Latifah is the recipient of the 20th annual Marian Anderson Award. The rapper/actress/producer is the newest member of an esteemed group of philanthropic artists with ties to Philadelphia.

Founded in 1998, the Marian Anderson Award honors "critically acclaimed artists who have impacted society in a positive way," whether it be through their own work or a charitable cause. Past recipients of the award include Elizabeth Taylor, Oprah Winfrey, Jon Bon Jovi, and Maya Angelou.

Willa Hightower (left) chair of the Marian Anderson board, with Mayor Kenney as he announces that Queen Latifah will be the recipient of the 2018 Marian Anderson Award
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Willa Hightower (left) chair of the Marian Anderson board, with Mayor Kenney as he announces that Queen Latifah will be the recipient of the 2018 Marian Anderson Award

Queen Latifah, born Dana Owens in Newark, N.J., is known as a rapper, singer, songwriter, actress, and producer. Her honors include  an Oscar nomination for her role as Matron "Mama" Morton in 2002's Chicago, a Grammy award for her feminist anthem "U.N.I.T.Y." off her third album, Black Reign; and an Emmy, a Golden Globe, and three Screen Actors Guild awards. She also is  known for her lead role as Khadijah James in Living Single, which launched her acting career. Most recently she starred in the 2017 film Girls Trip and the TV drama Star.

Latifah is heavily involved with organizations championing women's and LGBTQ rights, as well as increased arts funding in public schools, recently partnering with the VH1 Save the Music Program. Every year, she serves as cochair of the Lancelot H. Owens Scholarship Foundation, founded by Latifah's mother, Rita Owens, in honor of Latifah's brother. It gives scholarships to low-income students.

"We're celebrating 20 years of serving the community. We're celebrating 20 years of honoring artists who really made a difference beyond what their God-given talent has provided them," said Willa Hightower, chair of the Marian Anderson Award board. Latifah is also the youngest recipient and the first rapper to win.

"Queen Latifah is an excellent role model and clearly a well-deserving recipient of this prestigious honor," said Mayor Kenney, "I can't think of anyone more vibrant and responsive."

Last year's recipient was the singer Dionne Warwick, who grew up in East Orange, N.J. Warwick also is a Grammy winner and also  has given time and money to causes including AIDS relief, the Starlight Foundation, children's hospitals, and others.

The award is named for Marian Anderson, who grew up in South Philadelphia, the daughter of a coal seller and a schoolteacher, and began singing in Union Baptist Church's junior choir and later at South Philadelphia High School. She was denied entry at the then all-white Philadelphia Music Academy (now part of the University of the Arts) but was able to study under singer Mary Saunder Patterson, and later classical instructor Giuseppe Boghetti. Throughout her training, she was supported by her church, until Boghetti eventually waived his fees.

After Anderson was prevented from performing in a concert at Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution, Eleanor Roosevelt helped to organize an open-air concert for her at the Lincoln Memorial. Anderson went on to become the first African American woman to join the Metropolitan Opera Company. She later served as a delegate to the U.N. General Assembly and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

"She played a vital role in the acceptance of African American musicians in the classical music world and culture. Her grace and voracity remains a model for all of us," said Hightower.

Proceeds from the Marian Anderson Award Gala on Nov. 20, support the Young Artist Study-Grant (YASG) program in partnership with the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. The grants are awarded to high-school-age students with financial challenges. As proceeds are also invested in public arts programs, commissions, residencies, and artist grants.