Queen Latifah: Queen of the choir

Queen Latifah

Even Queen Latifah gets star-struck sometimes. Take her thoughts on sharing the screen with Dolly Parton in their new movie-musical, “Joyful Noise.”

“I still sometimes have to really stop and pinch myself and say, ‘That’s Dolly Parton! I know her!’”
Latifah, 41, stars in the film as Vi Rose Hill, a choir director who isn’t eager to slip some modern touches into her singers’ traditional songs and performance style. For the acting, singing and rapping triple threat, the role resonated.

“My aunt was a choir director [and] my mom directs the choir at my little church in Jersey,” she says.
“I’ve just grown up going to church and to me, the music connected with me more as a little kid than the preaching did. It was important that I show up for this film because I felt like I was representing so many of my family members, and just this whole idea of a gospel choir trying to make it through their battles. It was a story that I hadn’t really seen told in this way and I wanted to be part of making it happen. And then I found out Dolly was down with the project — I was just over the moon about it.”

Latifah knows the pressures of a make-it-or-break-it performance, the kind her character’s choir has in the film. She had a similar experience with one of her first shows.

“Probably the first real at-stake performance for me was at the Apollo Theater,” she says. “If you didn’t rock it you got booed off the stage and that’s a lot of pressure — the thought of getting booed and everybody in New York City knowing what happened. I remember  the turntables went dead for a second so I had to freestyle and I just started rocking, and thank God I made it through.”

“Joyful Noise” gives Latifah the opportunity to combine her loves for acting and singing, and she says for her, the two go hand in hand.

“When I was taking acting lessons, there were books I was reading — you know, ‘You could think about this if you had to cry.’ [But] I could just throw a song on my iPod that moves me. It gets me there. I don’t have to go into who died in my family or ‘What if I never have children?’ It could be just a few notes and I’m there. Music has had a profound effect on my acting.”

On-screen music

With acting and singing coexisting across platforms today, we wanted to see if Latifah thinks musicals are having a moment.
   
“The return of the musical and the return of dancing has really helped everything,” she says. “You have shows like ‘Glee,’ ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ bringing all those elements of performing — acting, singing, dancing — together again and making it a lot easier for it to all sprout so that people get to show their gifts in different ways.”


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