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Sheryl Lee Ralph Shares Her DIVA Life Lessons in Brooklyn

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by Fern Gillespie

It’s ironic that diva Sheryl Lee Ralph won a historic Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Emmy Award for her role as the no-nonsense, spiritual, inspiring Philadelphia kindergarten teacher Mrs. Barbara Howard in the hit ABC comedy Abbott Elementary. That’s because her fame began in education when she graduated from Rutgers in 1975 near the top of her class at age 19 and became the university’s youngest female graduate at the time. Recognizing her brilliance, she was named a “Glamour Magazine Top 10 College Women in America.”


Portraying the “old school teacher” has helped Ralph win the Critics’ Choice Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award. The comedy Emmy made her the second Black woman since Jackeé Harry in 1987 to receive this honor in 35 years. When she was recently honored at Essence’s Black Women in Hollywood from her Abbott Elementary co-star and producer, 2022 Essence honoree Quinta Brunson, Ralph remarked, “Folks been saying to me all afternoon, ‘Why so late?’ This is not late. This isn’t a moment late. This is right on time.”
Ralph’s career spans film, theatre, and television. Sidney Poitier gave Ralph her first on-screen break in the 1977 film A Piece of the Action. She’s co-starred with Denzel Washington in the film The Mighty Quinn, The Distinguished Gentleman with Eddie Murphy, and Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit with Whoopi Goldberg and Lauryn Hill as her daughter. In 1991, she won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Female for her performance in the 1990 comedy-drama film To Sleep with Anger with Danny Glover. Her many television roles included Moesha’s stepmom, where she earned five nominations for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. A bonafide Broadway star, she was nominated for a Tony Award for her role as Deena Jones, a character she created in 1981’s milestone Dreamgirls. She co-starred in Thoroughly Modern Millie and made Broadway history as the first African American to play Madame Morrible in the Broadway musical Wicked.


A former member of the Negro Ensemble Company, Ralph has roots in New York Black theatre. In the last few years, she’s been honored at New York Black cultural legacy events in memory of New York Black theatres legends like Rosetta LeNoire, founder of AMAS Musical Theatre, and Virginia Capers, founder of Lafayette Theatre.
On Saturday, March 18, the legendary actress will be in Brooklyn at the Billie Holiday Theatre for a book signing and discussion about her memoir-advice book, DIVA 2.0: 12 Life Lessons From Me For You! It takes readers behind the scenes of Ralph’s experiences on stage, screen, and in media to discover what a true Diva must know. The book reveals her ups and downs of stardom, the heartbreaks and triumphs, and the strength she found in her family. Ralph’s 12 life lessons explore how to elevate your personal journey to greater heights. She stresses that the first step is to respect yourself.
The first program is 3:00 pm -4:00 pm. The second is 4:30 pm-5:30 pm and includes a post-reception in Billie’s lobby. The fee is $30, and all attendees receive a free book.
For more information, contact: thebillieholiday.org