Sheryl Lee Ralph

Sheryl Lee Ralph was an American actress, singer, and writer who made a name for herself starring in one of the most legendary musicals in Broadway history, before enjoying a prolific and varied career in both film and TV, paving a path for aspiring African-American performers from all walks of life. Born on December 30, 1956 in Waterbury, CT, Ralph was the eldest child and only daughter of Stanley Ralph, a college professor, and Ivy Ralph, a fashion designer. As her mother was of Afro-Jamaican descent, Ralph spent much of her childhood in Mandeville, Jamaica, before the family moved to Long Island. While attending Uniondale High School in Uniondale, NY, Ralph first got the acting bug when she starred in her high school's production of "Oklahoma!" Following her high school graduation in 1972, Ralph attended Rutgers University, where she was one of the first recipients of the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, and at age 19, became the youngest woman to ever graduate from Rutgers. Ralph took up acting professionally after graduation, making her film debut in "A Piece of the Action" (1977), and then a year later, making her TV debut with a cameo on "Good Times" (CBS, 1974-1979). Ralph's big break came when she was cast as Deena Jones in the original Broadway production of "Dreamgirls," the hit musical loosely based on the rise and fall of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy. Critics and audiences alike were wowed by her powerhouse performance, and she was nominated the following year for a Tony for Best Actress in a Musical. Following the success of "Dreamgirls," Ralph joined the cast of the daytime soap opera "Search for Tomorrow" (CBS, 1951-1986) for the 1983-1984 season, before playing Ginger St. James on the sitcom "It's a Living" (ABC, 1985-1989). She also began appearing more often in films, voicing Rita in the Disney animated film "Oliver & Company" (1988), playing Denzel Washington's wife in the thriller "The Mighty Quinn" (1989), and earning an Independent Spirit Award nomination for her turn in Charles Burnett's indie hit "To Sleep with Anger" (1990). Ralph appeared alongside Robert DeNiro in "Mistress" (1992), Eddie Murphy in "The Distinguished Gentleman" (1992), and Whoopie Goldberg in "Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit" (1993), while also taking a series regular role on the final season of the sitcom "Designing Women" (CBS, 1986-1993). Her next series regular gig came when she was cast as Dee Mitchell, mother to Brandy's titular character on the hit sitcom "Moesha" (UPN, 1996-2001). The early 2000s were a slow period for Ralph, she mostly took guest roles on shows like "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009) and "Barbershop: The Series" (Showtime, 2005), and even appearing as herself on the reality series "My Super Sweet 16" (MTV, 2005-2009), and "Baldwin Hills" (BET, 2007-2009). She also took a lead role in the Broadway musical version of "The First Wives Club" when original star Adriane Lenox dropped out due to health issues. Her next two series regular gigs came on the sitcoms "Tyler Perry's House of Payne" (TBS, 2006-2012) and "Instant Mom" (Nickelodeon/TV Land, 2013-2015). Ralph was next seen playing Rose on the sitcom "Fam" (CBS, 2019-).