Sheryl Lee Ralph

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Emmy Award-Winning Actress & Bestselling Author

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Sheryl Lee Ralph: Biography at a Glance

  • Sheryl Lee Ralph is an Emmy Award-winning actress known for her infectious positivity and a career that’s spanned nearly five decades, taking her from Hollywood to Broadway and back again.
  • She can be seen starring as "Barbara" on ABC's hit comedy series Abbott Elementary opposite Quinta Brunson and Janelle James. For her role in Abbott Elementary, Ralph earned her first Emmy nomination and award at the age of 65. 
  • Ralph and her husband, Pennsylvania Senator Vincent Hughes, share a passion for fighting for education which was a motivator for taking on her role on Abbott Elementary
  • Ralph is also known for starring in over 100 episodes of Moesha, opposite Grammy Award-winner Brandy, and a lead role opposite Tia Mowry in three seasons of Nickelodeon's hit series Instant Mom.
  • Her long list of credits includes the multi-Tony Award-winning Broadway play Dreamgirls, film credits such as Sister Act 2 and The Distinguished Gentleman, and television credits including Instant Mom, Wonder Woman, The Jefferson's, and Good Times. 
  • As a writer, Ralph's debut book, Redefining Diva: Life Lessons from the Original Dreamgirl, instantly became a national bestselling title and gave readers a personal look into her triumphs and tribulations over the years, navigating life with courage, wit, and strength.
  • She is the founding director of the DIVA (Divinely Inspired Victoriously Anointed) Foundation 501(C)3 which she created in memory of the many friends she had lost to HIV/AIDS.

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Biography

With an acclaimed career spanning over four decades, Emmy, Critics Choice, and Independent Spirit Award winner Sheryl Lee Ralph has become a staple in the entertainment industry. 

Ralph can currently be seen starring on ABC’s hit comedy series Abbott Elementary opposite creator Quinta Brunson. In 2023, she received her second Emmy nomination for her portrayal of “Barbara Howard,” Abbott’s veteran Kindergarten teacher. In 2022, the show earned a total of seven Emmy nominations from the Television Academy for its freshman season, including Outstanding Comedy Series, and Ralph won the award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. She also won the Critics’ Choice award for Best Supporting Actor in A Comedy Series and landed the Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by An Actress in A Supporting Role in A Musical-Comedy or Drama Television Series, and the 2023 Film Independent Spirit Awards nomination for Best Supporting Performance in a New Scripted Series for her work on the show. For its freshman season, the series was also honored with the AFI Awards – TV Program of the Year, Critics Choice Awards – Best Comedy Series, Golden Globes Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy, NAACP Image Awards – Outstanding Comedy Series, SAG – Outstanding Performance by Ensemble in a Comedy Series. The second season garnered a total of eight Emmy nominations and a Peabody Award.

Starring alongside Grammy Award winner Brandy, Ralph received five NAACP Image Award nominations for her work in over 100 episodes of UPN’s Moesha. She also had a lead role opposite Tia Mowry in three seasons of Nickelodeon’s hit series “Instant Mom.” Her other television credits include recurring roles on Showtime’s Ray Donovan opposite Jon Voight, Freeform’s Motherland: Fort Salem as the President of the United States President Kelly WadeClawsBarbershopOne Mississippi by Diablo Cody and Tig Notaro, CBS’ Emmy nominated Designing Women, New AttitudeIt’s a Living, and guest appearances on The Black Lady Sketch Show, MacGyver, ER, Two Broke GirlsSmash, George, Criminal Minds, LA Law, The Jeffersons, and Good Times.

On the big screen, Ralph made her feature film debut at 20 years old opposite Academy Award winner Sidney Poitier in Warner Bros A Piece of the Action, which Poitier also directed. She went on to work with more of Hollywood’s other top leading and award-winning men in films including The Mighty Quinn opposite Denzel Washington, Mistress with Robert de Niro, To Sleep with Anger with Danny Glover, and The Distinguished Gentlemen with Eddie Murphy. Ralph won an Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in To Sleep with Anger. She also appeared opposite Whoopi Goldberg and Lauryn Hill in Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. Her additional feature credits include The Comeback Trial with De Niro, Tommy Lee Jones and Morgan Freeman, Netflix’s Step Sisters produced by Lena Waithe and Just Getting Started with Freeman, Jones, and Rene Russo. She will next be seen in the Bleecker Street comedy The Fabulous Four alongside Susan Sarandon, Bette Midler, and Megan Mullaly. The film follows three lifelong friends (Sarandon, Mullally, Ralph) who travel to Key West, Florida to be bridesmaids in a surprise wedding for their college friend (Midler).

Finding success behind the camera, Ralph wrote, directed, and produced the award-winning short film, Secrets, co-starring Alfre Woodard, and Robin Givens. The film premiered at Outfest Los Angeles and won the Outfest Audience Award. It also screened at the Toronto International Film Festival and was a finalist in the HBO Film Short Competition, Showtime's Filmmaker Award Series, and the BET Filmmaker Award Competition. She recently produced the documentary short Unexpected which premiered at the 2023 Essence Film Festival. The short follows Masonia Traylor and Ciarra "Ci Ci" Coven—two young mothers who have turned their own HIV diagnoses into activism as they travel to rural parts of the country to connect with newly diagnosed women and offer supplies, information, and hope. Unexpected was recently nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Daytime Special.

On stage, Sheryl is well known for her award-winning work, creating the role of Deena Jones in the legendary Broadway musical “Dreamgirls” which earned her Best Actress nods for Tony and Drama Desk Awards. In 2002, She originated the role of Muzzy Van Hossmer in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” alongside Sutton Foster. The show won six Tony Awards and five Drama Desk Awards, including the win for Best Musical at both.  Sheryl most recently appeared as Madame Morrible in “Wicked,” becoming the first African American actress to take on the classic role She also holds the title of producer on Broadway’s “Thoughts of a Colored Man” at The John Golden Theatre (October 2021-March 2022) which explores a single day in the pulsing heart of Brooklyn, as seven Black men discover the extraordinary together. reuniting with Loretta Devine and Jennifer Holliday for a sold-out, one-night-only, “Dreamgirls” reunion celebrating the 35th anniversary. She most recently produced “Ohio State Murders” starring Audra McDonald, which received one Tony nomination and five Drama Desk Side nominations including Outstanding Revival of a Play.

Born in Waterbury, Connecticut, the daughter of a college professor and Jamaican fashion designer, Ralph was raised between Mandeville, Jamaica, and Long Island, New York. In 1973, she was crowned Miss Black Teenage New York. Two years later at 19, Ralph was the youngest woman to ever graduate from Rutgers University. During her time at Rutgers, Ralph was one of the earliest winners of the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarships awarded by the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. Also, that year, she was named one of the top 10 College Women in America by Glamour Magazine.

Off-screen, Ralph is a passionate health advocate and honored AIDS activist. In 1990, she founded The DIVA Foundation, a national nonprofit 501(c)3 charitable organization as a memorial and life-long pledge to the many friends she had lost to HIV/AIDS. The foundation has been committed to achieving better health outcomes for all people through innovative programming using the transformative power of the arts. Their signature fundraising event, Divas Simply Singing! Raising Health Awareness is an annual benefit concert that raises awareness and funds. Running for 33 consecutive years, it is the longest-running HIV/AIDS and Health Awareness benefit concert in the United States. For this advocacy, Ralph was appointed as an AIDS Ambassador for Jamacia’s Ministry of Health and recently received the prestigious Honorary Order of Jamaica for her contribution as an actress and cultural ambassador of Jamaica. In September 2023, Project Angel Food honored Ralph with the inaugural Sheryl Lee Ralph Legacy Award for her unwavering commitment to the organization over the last three decades.  

Ralph is a mother of two and is happily married to State Senator Vincent Hughes of Pennsylvania. She splits her time between Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

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