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Taraji P. Henson Surprised Oprah With Her Voice

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Courtesy of Kate Spade

Taraji P. Henson has been making waves and headlines recently for speaking out about the mistreatment she, along with many other Black women in the industry, faces in Hollywood, including on the set of The Color Purple. The Golden Globe winner and Academy Award–nominated producer and actress’s role in the new adaptation as free-spirited singer Shug Avery was one she had been approached for before, for the stage — she initially declined. While the star is well known among her peers, her singing talent was not. “Oprah couldn’t believe it. Because that’s who called to tell me I got it. And that’s the first thing she said. ‘Who knew you could sing?’” laughs Henson. This week on the In Her Shoes podcast, Henson spoke with Cut editor-in-chief Lindsay Peoples about speaking up around pay inequality, her recent partnership with Kate Spade New York, and writing her first children’s book.

Listen and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. You can also read highlights from the interview below.

On what drew her to play Shug Avery this time around:

Shug came back to get me, so that means that I’m supposed to do it.

Vocally, I felt like I could handle it. You sing it once, you record it, and then you don’t have to really sing it every night like you would onstage. I felt comfortable with my instrument being able to do that. That and Blitz believing in me was the determining factor for me. When someone believes in you like that, you just want to make them proud.


On the effects of pay inequality:

I don’t think people really realize what that does to your mental health.

Everything I do is under the umbrella of mental wellness. When you aren’t being paid as much as your counterparts, it does something to you mentally. It makes you go, What does that mean for me? What are you saying about me? That’s why it struck such a chord, because it is mentally draining; it’s taxing to know that you’re doing more and going beyond and still getting paid less than. That doesn’t feel good.

On what her foundation, the Boris Lawrence Henderson Foundation, and Kate Spade’s recent partnership are doing for HBCUs:

We just launched two She Care Pods, one in Alabama State University and the second at Hampton University, and we have two more that we’re going to erect this year. These pods are a place where the students can come and be introduced to conversations around mental health or come to take care of their mental health. We have two pods where they can go and have one-on-one therapy sessions or virtual sessions, or they take a break and have some single one-on-one time. We like to introduce mental wellness by African dance, meditation, sound bowls. It’s a place where you can go and decompress, have a moment, and feel safe. I wish we had these when I was in college. 

The Cut

A weekly audio magazine exploring culture, style, sex, politics, and more.

Taraji P. Henson Surprised Oprah With Her Voice