Sheryl Lee Ralph has accomplished the unthinkable throughout her incredible acting career. From dominating the Broadway stage to starring in some of the biggest TV shows and films over the last decade, Ralph knows no bounds when it comes to showcasing her impeccable acting skills. And at the ripe age of 65, the Jamaican-American star is still soaring across the entertainment industry with a bevy of award-winning projects. Let’s take a look back at her incredible career and why she continues to dominate the industry one amazing role after the other.
Early Life and Career
Sheryl Lee Ralph was born on December 30, 1956, in Waterbury, Connecticut but the star spent her time traveling between the U.S. and Mandeville, Jamaica visiting family.
Born to Jamaican fashion designer Ivy Ralph and Stanley Ralph, an American college professor, the performer was raised between Mandeville, Jamaica, and Long Island, New York, according to the Jamaica Gleaner. Ralph cultivated serious acting skills at a young age. She blew her entire class away at Uniondale High School in New York, where she she starred in the school’s exciting production of Oklahoma. Excellence continued to follow Ralph even after her time at Uniondale. At 19, she became the youngest woman to graduate from Rutgers University.
According to her IMBD page, Ralph missed her graduation to audition for a Skippy Peanut Butter commercial. It was the first of many that would kick-start her busy career.
In 1977, Ralph made her first onscreen debut in the crime comedy A Piece of the Action starting alongside Sidney Portier and Bill Cosby. The following year, she landed her first TV role on Baa Baa Black Sheep. Guest roles on Good Times, Wonder Woman and The Jeffersons followed shortly after.
Rise to Fame
Sheryl Lee Ralph’s life would change in 1981 when she scored a role in the Broadway musical Dreamgirls. In the Michael Bennett-produced play, Ralph shined in the role of Deena Jones. Her star-studded performance in the show earned her critical acclaim and a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical.
After her success in Dreamgirls, Ralph continued to work in theater, appearing in productions of Regina Taylor’s The Tempest and Jelly’s Last Jam with Gregory Hines. In 1984, she made her film debut in A Soldier’s Story, directed by Norman Jewison. She also appeared in the television movie Oliver’s Story and in the ABC sitcom It’s a Living.
Fans grew to love Ralph even more when she starred in the television series Moesha, playing the strong Black mother of the title character played by singer Brandy Norwood. The show was such a success, that it ran for six seasons on UPN. While filming for the popular series, Ralph continued to work in film, starring in classics like Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, The Flintstones, and Deterrence.
More recently, Ralph has continued to work in theater, appearing in the Broadway productions of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” and “Wicked.” She also appeared in the television series “Instant Mom,” and “Fam,” and in the films “Step Sisters,” and “Brian Banks.” Additionally, Ralph is an advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, having lost friends and fellow actors to the disease. In 1990, she founded the DIVA organization (Divinely Inspired Victoriously Anointed) Foundation, a non-profit that focuses on HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention.
Back in September, Ralph received her first Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series thanks to her incredible role as Barbara Howard on Abbott Elementary. At the ripe age of 65, the actress doesn’t seem to be letting her foot off the gas anytime soon. In a recent interview with Instyle, Ralph shared that after winning her first Emmy, she was ready to start working behind the camera.
“I am looking forward to producing some wonderful material, whether it’s on stage or on the screen, I want to bring forward some of those stories that have not been told before,” she said. “There was a time when there was no interest in stories that had to do with people of color, Black people … and I would love to give life to some of those stories because I truly believe in the Holy Impossible. And I’m just ready to bring the impossible to light,” Ralph added.
Sheryl Lee Ralph has had an impressive career, spanning several decades and multiple mediums. Her work on stage, screen, and television has earned her critical acclaim and a legion of fans. Additionally, her advocacy work in the fight against HIV/AIDS has made a significant impact on the lives of those affected by the disease. As she continues to work in the entertainment industry, it is clear that Sheryl Lee Ralph will always be a force to be reckoned with.
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