By Stephen Brookes
The Washington Post • October 16, 2007
Queen Latifah's plan for total world domination seems to be working. She’s had one success after another, as a rapper, actress, producer, celebrity spokeswoman, talk-show host and now -- as she showed at Strathmore Music Center on Sunday night -- jazz singer.
Queen LatifahBut it's not quite clear yet whether this latest incarnation will be her best. At 37, she's definitely ready to move past hip-hop, and her voice -- still as gutsy and powerful as ever -- needs something to do. She can field just about any genre you throw at her, from soul to doo-wop to '60s pop, and on Sunday seemed determined to prove it. Fronting a nine-piece band and three backup singers, Latifah kicked the show off with Sarah Vaughan's jazzy, brassy "I'm Gonna Live Till I Die," did a slinky take on the 1963 Barbara Lewis hit "Hello Stranger," brought some much-needed soul to the Mamas & the Papas' "California Dreamin'," and threw in everything from Phoebe Snow to Antonio Carlos Jobim in between.
And while it was an entertaining show -- this is a woman with stage presence to spare -- the music was, frankly, pretty ordinary. The aggressive, risk-taking rapper was nowhere in sight; Latifah seemed content to take well-traveled paths with everything she sang, turning in polished singing but rarely digging below the surface. (Her off-the-shelf band, which had the limpest horn section in the Western Hemisphere, didn't help things, either.) Maybe it says something that the showstopper of the evening was the big, cinematic "I Know Where I've Been," from the musical "Hairspray" (in which she played Motormouth Maybelle). It's full of overblown stage emotions, but she pulled out all the stops and it worked: music scaled perfectly for a Queen.