Sheryl Lee Ralph

Ralph in 2012
Born (1956-12-30) December 30, 1956 (age 67)
Other namesSheryl Lee Ralph-Hughes
EducationRutgers University, New Brunswick (BFA)
  • Actress
  • singer
Years active1977–present
Known forDreamgirls (Broadway; 1981)
It's a Living
Motherland: Fort Salem
Abbott Elementary
Eric Maurice
(m. 1990; div. 2001)
(m. 2005)

Sheryl Lee Ralph OJ[1] (born December 30, 1956) is an American actress and singer. Known for her performances on stage and screen she earned acclaim for her role as Deena Jones in the Broadway musical Dreamgirls (1981), for which she was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. Since 2021 she has starred as Barbara Howard on the ABC mockumentary sitcom Abbott Elementary, for which she received the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, becoming the first Black woman in 35 years to win the award.[2]

She made her film screen debut in the 1977 comedy film A Piece of the Action. 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. Ralph's other notable roles include The Mighty Quinn (1989), Mistress (1992), The Distinguished Gentleman (1992), Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993), and The Comeback Trail (2020).

After early guest roles on television shows such as Good Times, The Jeffersons and Wonder Woman she then starred in the ABC sitcoms It's a Living (1986–1989) and New Attitude (1990), as well as the Nick at Nite sitcom Instant Mom (2013–2015). Her role as Dee Mitchell, in the UPN sitcom Moesha (1996–2001) earned her five NAACP Image Award nominations.

Her other Broadway roles include Muzzy Van Hossmere in Thoroughly Modern Millie (2002) and Madame Morrible in Wicked (2016–2017). Additionally, she has produced the Broadway plays Thoughts of a Colored Man (2021) and Ohio State Murders (2022).

Early life

Ralph was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, the daughter of Stanley Ralph, a college professor, and Ivy Ralph O.D., a Jamaican fashion designer and the creator of the kariba suit.[3][4] She has a younger brother, actor and comedian Michael Ralph. According to a DNA analysis, she descends partly from the Tikar people of Cameroon.[5] She was raised between Mandeville, Jamaica, and Long Island.[6][7] Ralph attended Uniondale High School in Uniondale, New York.

She starred in a high-school production of the musical Oklahoma!, portraying Ado Annie. Sheryl graduated in 1972. Earlier that year, she was crowned Miss Black Teen-age New York. 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.[8]

That year she was named one of the top ten college women in America by Glamour magazine. Initially she hoped to study medicine, but after dealing with cadavers in a pre-med class and winning a scholarship in a competition at the American College Theater Festival, she gave up medicine for the performing arts.[9] Many years later, she served as the commencement speaker at Rutgers for the Class of 2023.


1977–1989: Early roles and Dreamgirls

Ralph in 1997

Ralph began her career in the 1970s, starring in the 1977 American crime comedy film A Piece of the Action directed by Sidney Poitier. She also made several appearances in television shows, such as Good Times, Wonder Woman and The Jeffersons. Ralph then landed a role in the Broadway production Reggae (1980),[10] before portraying Deena Jones in the original Broadway musical Dreamgirls (1981).[11] On television, she was in the cast of the CBS daytime soap opera Search for Tomorrow while starring on Broadway in Dreamgirls. For her performance in Dreamgirls, Ralph was nominated in 1982 for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical.[12]

Afterwards, she signed with Sid Bernstein's music label, and released her only studio album In the Evening in 1984. The album's title track peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Dance Music/Club Play Singles chart and No. 64 on the UK Singles Chart that same year.[13] Ralph landed the leading role of Ginger St. James on the television series It's a Living. In 1988 she starred in the Disney film Oliver & Company, providing the voice of Rita, a sassy Afghan Hound. Her first leading role in a film came as Denzel Washington's wife in The Mighty Quinn, released in 1989.

1990–2020: Film roles and Moesha

In 1990, she was cast as Vicki St. James in the ABC sitcom New Attitude. The following year, Ralph won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Female for her performance in the 1990 drama film To Sleep with Anger. In 1992, she starred with Robert De Niro in the title role in Mistress. That same year, she played Etienne Toussaint-Bouvier on Designing Women, and co-starred with Eddie Murphy in The Distinguished Gentleman. She also played Florence Watson, the mother of Rita Louise Watson (Lauryn Hill) in the 1993 film Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. Her role as Dee Mitchell on Moesha (1996–2001) earned her five nominations for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. During the 1990s she also had roles in The Flintstones, Deterrence, and Unconditional Love. She provided the voice of Cheetah in Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. Ralph produced Divas Simply Singing, which has become an important AIDS fundraiser. She also appeared on the Showtime series Barbershop as Claire. Ralph played a character who brought a new face to the sufferings of war in the NBC hit series ER. Ralph's 2002 project Baby of the Family concerns a young child who is born with a caul over her head, which enables her to see ghosts and the future. Ralph was also featured with son Etienne on MTV's My Super Sweet 16 and BET's Baldwin Hills, as well as an episode of Clean House that also featured her two children, Etienne and Ivy-Victoria (aka Coco), named after Ralph's mother.

Ralph in 2012

On June 16, 2009, it was announced that Ralph would join the cast of the Broadway-bound musical The First Wives Club as Elyse. She replaced Adriane Lenox, who withdrew from the show due to health concerns.[14] In 2011, Ralph guest-starred in Young Justice as Amanda Waller. In 2013, Ralph appeared in the NBC television show Smash as Cynthia, the mother of Jennifer Hudson's character.[15] On February 9, 2013, Ralph appeared at the 2013 Columbus Middle School youth rally in Columbus, Mississippi. In August 2014, she appeared on KTLA Los Angeles Morning News as a fill-in entertainment reporter. In November 2014, Ralph appeared on Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn as the rich lady who claims her dog from Nicky, Ricky, Dicky, and Dawn. Some of her recent TV appearances include the TNT dramedy Claws, and on the Nickelodeon sitcom Instant Mom as the mother of Stephanie (Tia Mowry). From January 10 to April 11, 2019, Ralph appeared as one of the main characters, Rose, in the television series Fam which ran for one season and was canceled in May 2019.

2021–present: Abbott Elementary

In 2021, Ralph joined the new hit sitcom Abbott Elementary, portraying veteran elementary school teacher Barbara Howard.[16] For her role, Ralph won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, becoming the second Black actress to win in the category after Jackée Harry, who won in 1987 for 227, and the Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series in 2023. In October 2022, Ralph was presented with the Order of Jamaica by the governor-general for her contribution to the national film industry.[17]

In 2023, Ralph performed "Lift Every Voice and Sing", also known as the Black national anthem, at the Super Bowl LVII pre-show.[18] Later in 2023, Ralph became the first celebrity and the first Black person to play Mrs. Claus in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade’s history.[19]

Personal life

Ralph was married to French businessman Eric Maurice from 1990 to 2001, and they have two children, a son born in 1992 and a daughter in 1995. She has been married to Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent Hughes since July 30, 2005.[20]

In July 2004, Ralph was inducted as an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority at the 47th National Convention in Las Vegas, Nevada.[21]

In May 2008, Ralph was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Tougaloo College after giving the commencement address.[citation needed]

In 2023, Ralph was named the commencement speaker for Rutgers University, her alma mater. It was also announced that she would receive an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts degree at the ceremony.[22]



Year Title Role Notes
1977 A Piece of the Action Barbara Hanley
1988 Oliver & Company Rita Voice[23]
1989 The Mighty Quinn Lola Quinn
Skin Deep Rose the Receptionist
1990 To Sleep with Anger Linda
1992 Mistress Beverly
The Distinguished Gentleman Miss Loretta
1993 Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit Florence Watson
1994 The Flintstones Mrs. Reneè Pyrite
1995 White Man's Burden Roberta Wellison
Lover's Knot Charlotte Lee
1996 Bogus Ruth Clark
1997 Jamaica Beat Sylvia Jones
1998 The Easter Story Keepers Risa Voice, direct-to-video
Secrets - Short
1999 Personals Chantal Jones
Unconditional Love Linda Cray
Deterrence Gayle Redford
2000 Lost in the Pershing Point Hotel Nurse Betty Redford
2002 Baby of the Family Mamie
2007 Frankie D Mama D
2010 Pastor Jones: The Complete First Season Mother Kelly Video
The Cost of Heaven Paulette Randolph
Blessed and Cursed Lady Elise Wright
2012 Christmas in Compton Abuta
He Knows My Heart First Lady Jameson Short
2017 Just Getting Started Roberta
Christmas at Holly Lodge Nadine
2018 Step Sisters Yvonne Bishop
2020 The Comeback Trail Bess Jones
2021 Prepared Dr. Richards Short
2023 The Young Wife
TBA The Fabulous Four Post-production


Year Title Role Notes
1978 Baa Baa Black Sheep Elizabeth Episode: "A Little Bit of England"
A.E.S. Hudson Street Nurse Episode: "Shut Down"
Husbands, Wives & Lovers Joelle Episode: "Murray Gets Sacked and Paula Gets Hired"
The Krofft Comedy Hour Various characters Television film
Good Times Vanessa Blake Episode: "J.J and the Plumber's Helper"
1979 Wonder Woman Bobbie Episode: "The Starships Are Coming"
The Jeffersons Jeanie Episode: "Louise's Convention"
1982 The Neighborhood Doris Campbell Television film
1983 Search for Tomorrow Laura McCarthy Regular cast
1984 V: The Series Glenna Episode: "The Overload"
1985 Code Name: Foxfire Maggie Bryan Main cast
1986 Hunter Josie Clifford Episode: "The Return of Typhoon Thompson"
Pros and Cons Roberta Television film
1986–89 It's a Living Ginger St. James Main cast (season 4-6)
1987 Sister Margaret and the Saturday Night Ladies Corelle Television film
L.A. Law Renee Quintana Episode: "Beef Jerky"
Amazing Stories Show Singer Episode: "Gershwin's Trunk"
1990 Falcon Crest Mooshy Tucker Episode: "Dark Streets" & "Crimes of the Past"
New Attitude Vicki St. James Main cast
1991 The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw Miss Rosalee Television film
1992–93 Designing Women Etienne Toussaint Bouvier Recurring cast (season 7)
1993 No Child of Mine Marjorie Duncan Television film
1993–94 George Maggie Foster Main cast
1994 Witch Hunt Hypolyta Kropotkin Television film
1995 Street Gear Sarah Davis Main cast
1996–2001 Moesha Deidra "Dee" Mitchell (née Moss) Main cast (season 1-5), recurring cast (season 6)
1998 The Wild Thornberrys Lioness #2 Voice, episode: "Flood Warning"[23]
1999 Sabrina, the Teenage Witch Zsa Zsa Goowhiggie Episode: "What Price Harvey?"
The Parkers Dee Mitchell Episode: "Daddy's Girl"
2000 Recess Mrs. Lasalle Voice, episode: "Me Know No"
2000–01 The District Lt. Dee Banks Recurring cast (season 1)
2001 The Jennie Project Dr. Pamela Prentiss Television film
2002 Justice League Barbara Ann Minerva/Cheetah Voice, episode: "Injustice for All"[23]
The Proud Family Diana Parker Voice, 2 episodes
2002–03 Static Shock Trina Jessup Voice, 2 episodes[23]
2003 Whoopi Florence Episode: "She Ain't Heavy, She's My Partner"
Las Vegas Janet Ellis Episode: "Luck Be a Lady"
2004 Justice League Unlimited Barbara Ann Minerva/Cheetah Voice, episode: "Kids' Stuff"[23]
Da Kink in My Hair Novelette Television film
2005 Barbershop Claire Recurring role
2006 7th Heaven Nurse Yvonne Rockwell Episode: "And Baby Makes Three"
ER Gloria Gallant 2 episodes
2007 Odicie Aunt Amy Television film
Exes and Ohs Reverend Ruby Episode: "There Must Be Rules..."
2008 Hannah Montana Clarice Johnson Episode: "We're All on This Date Together"
2010 Zevo-3 Grams Voice, episode: "Control"
2011, 2019 Young Justice Amanda Waller Voice, 2 episodes[23]
2013 Smash Cynthia Moore Episode: "The Song"
JD Lawrence's Community Service Carolyn Main cast
2013–20 Ray Donovan Claudette Boone Recurring cast (season 1–2 & 7)
2014 2 Broke Girls Genét Bromberg Episode: "And the Not Broke Parents"
One Love Carolyn Winters Main cast
See Dad Run Vanessa Ralph 2 episodes
Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn Ms. Edin Dumont Episode: "The Sad Tail of Gary-Chip-Tiny-Elvis-Squishy-Paws"
2013–15 Instant Mom Maggie Turner Main cast
2016 Criminal Minds Hayden Montgomery Recurring cast (season 11)
Crushed Bella Black Television film
2017 H.E.I.R. Herself TV series
One Mississippi Felicia Hollingsworth Recurring cast
2017–19 MacGyver Mama Emma Colton Recurring cast (season 1-3)
2018 The Quad Ula Pettiway Recurring cast (season 2)
Claws Matilde Ruval Recurring cast (season 2)
2019 Fam Rose Main cast
A Black Lady Sketch Show MaryAnne Episode: "3rd & Bonaparte Is Always in the Shade"
Christmas Hotel Marnie Television film
2020 Fashionably Yours Janet Television film
Christmas Comes Twice Miss Nelson Television film
2020–22 Motherland: Fort Salem President Kelly Wade Recurring cast
2021 Christmas in My Heart Ruthie Sampson Television film
2021–present Abbott Elementary Barbara Howard Main cast
2022 Soul of a Nation Herself Episode: "X / o n e r a t e d – The Murder of Malcolm X and 55 Years to Justice"
Celebrity Family Feud Herself/Contestant Episode: "Abbott Elementary vs. Hacks and Kal Penn vs. Erika Christensen"
How We Roll Loretta Episode: "The Big Secret"
2023 Celebrity Wheel of Fortune Herself/Contestant Episode: "Janelle James, Sheryl Lee Ralph and Chris Perfetti"
Praise Petey Additional voices Episode: "Taxi to the South!"
Young Love Additional voices 2 episodes
Bob's Burgers Esmeralda Voice, episode: "The Amazing Rudy"


Year Title Role Notes
2011 Kiss and Tell: The History of Black Romance in Movie Narrator
2016 Struggle and Triumph: The Legacy of George Washington Carver Narrator Short

Video Games

Year Title Role Notes
2010 BioShock 2 Grace Holloway Voice role

Stage Work

Year Title Role Notes
1980 Swing Helen
Reggae Faith Original Broadway production
1981 Dreamgirls Deena Jones Original Broadway production
2002 Thoroughly Modern Millie Muzzy Van Hossmere Original Broadway production
2016–17 Wicked Madame Morrible Replacement
2021 Goosebumps The Musical Miss Walker Original studio cast recording
Thoughts of a Colored Man Producer; Original Broadway production
2022 Ohio State Murders Producer; Original Broadway production



  1. "You're So Romantic" (4:38)
  2. "In the Evening" (3:50)
  3. "Give Me Love" (3:34)
  4. "Evolution" (4:02)
  5. "Back to Being in Love" (3:01)
  6. "Be Somebody" (3:35)
  7. "I'm Your Kind of Girl" (3:55)
  8. "B.A.B.Y." (3:15)
  9. "Ready or Not" (3:46)
  10. "I'm So Glad That We Met" (3:56)

Produced and arranged by Trevor Lawrence

  1. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” (2:11)
  2. “Holiday Cheer (We Made It)” (4:03)
  3. “Wreck The Halls” feat. B Slade (1:09)
  4. “Silent Night” (2:52)
  5. “Little Drummer Boy” (6:57)
  6. “I Love The Holidays” feat. J Minor 7 (1:09)
  7. “Commercial Break” (0:08)
  8. “Sleigh. (Jingle Bells)” (3:43)
  9. “The Real Meaning” feat. B Slade (5:26)
  10. “The Gift” (1:04)
  11. “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” (1:10)
  12. “O Holy Night” (3:16)
  13. “O’ Come All Ye Faithful” feat. Ann Nesby and B Slade (5:24)
  14. “Muva Has Spoken” feat. Ivy Ralph O.D. (1:06)
  15. “Silent Night Vibes” feat. Hubie Wang (2:05)


Title Year Peak chart positions Album



"When I First Saw You"[29] 1983 50 Non-album single
"In the Evening"[30] 1984 6 16 18 64 In the Evening
"You're So Romantic"[31] 1985 37 84
"In the Evening (Remix)"[32] 1997 17 Non-album singles
"Evolution (Remix)"[32] 1998
"Here Comes the Rain Again"[32] 1999 37 44

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Nominated work Result Ref.
1982 Tony Award Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical Dreamgirls Nominated
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actress in a Musical Nominated
1989 NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture The Mighty Quinn Nominated
1990 Independent Spirit Awards Best Supporting Female To Sleep with Anger Won
1998 NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Moesha Nominated
1999 Nominated
2000 Nominated
2001 Nominated
Black Reel Awards Outstanding Supporting Actress Deterrence Nominated
2002 NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Moesha Nominated
2022 Black Reel Awards Outstanding Supporting Actress, Comedy Series Abbott Elementary Nominated [33]
Peabody Award Entertainment Won [34]
Hollywood Critics Association TV Awards Best Supporting Actress in a Broadcast Network or Cable Series, Comedy Nominated [35]
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Won [36]
Creative Coalition TV Humanitarian Award Herself Won [37]
Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation Elizabeth Taylor Commitment to End AIDS Award Won [38]
2023 Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actress - Television Series Abbott Elementary Nominated [39]
Independent Spirit Awards Best Supporting Performance in a New Scripted Series Nominated [40]
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated [41]
Critics' Choice Television Awards Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Won [42]
Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series Won [43]
Dorian Awards Best Supporting TV Performance - Comedy Nominated [44]
Black Reel Awards Outstanding Supporting Performance, Comedy Series Won [45]
2024 Hollywood Critics Association TV Awards Best Supporting Actress in a Broadcast Network or Cable Series, Comedy Nominated [46]
Critics' Choice Television Awards Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated [47]
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated [48]
Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series Pending [49]


  1. ^ "Sheryl Lee Ralph on Instagram: "Well, it is now official! I am The Honourable Sheryl Lee Ralph OJ (Order of Jamaica) Warrior Woman! 🇯🇲🇯🇲🇯🇲 #ThisisWhatBelievingLooksLike"". Instagram. Retrieved October 28, 2022.
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