“Theater is in my blood. When I began as an actress, you weren't really acting unless you were doing theater.” Sheryl Lee Ralph
Actress and singer Sheryl Lee Ralph first came to fame with her Tony nominated portrayal of Deena Jones in the Broadway hit musical “Dreamgirls” (1981). After the success, she turned her attention to film and television and received an Independent Spirit Award for her scene stealing role on the comedy film “To Sleep with Anger” (1991). She then received a Black Reel nomination for her performance as a government official in the Rod Lurie directed political thriller “Deterrence” (1999). Other movie credits include “A Piece of the Action” (1977), “The Mighty Quinn” (1989), “Mistress” (1992), “Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit” (1993), “White Man's Burden” (1995), “Bogus” (1996) and “Blessed and Cursed” (2010). On the small screen, Ralph is perhaps best known for playing the title character's stepmother on the UPN series “Moesha” (1996-2001), from which she earned five Image nominations. Prior to her work on “Moesha,” the stunning thespian starred in a string of short lived series, such as “Code Name: Foxfire” (1985), “New Attitude” (1990), “George” (1993) and “Street Gear” (1994-1995), was a regular on the soap opera “Search for Tomorrow” (1983-1984) and the syndicated series “It's a Leaving” (1986-1989) and played a recurring role on “Designing Women” (1992-1993) and “The District” (2000-2001). She has also guest starred in numerous TV series, among them “Hunter,” “L.A. Law,” “Falcon Crest,” “7th Heaven” and “ER.” Ralph has also released an album titled “In the Evening” (1984), scored several singles and directed two short films and an episode of the TV show “The Parkers.”
Ralph is married to Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent Hughes. She has two children with her former husband, Eric Maurice (together from 1990 to 2001). In July 2004, Ralph was inducted as an honorary member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Miss Black Teen-Age New York
Childhood and Family:
Sheryl Lee Ralph was born on December 30, 1956, in Waterbury, Connecticut, to an African American father (Stanley Ralph) and a Jamaican mother (Ivy Ralph). She grew up in Mandeville, Jamaica, and Long Island, New York, and won the title of Miss Black Teen-Age New York in 1973. She was also named Best College Actress in 1974. At age 19, she became the youngest female to ever graduate from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, but missed her graduation to get work on a commercial. She graduated with a BA in English literature and theater arts.
Sheryl has been married twice. She was married to Eric Maurice, an art collector, from 1990 to 2001. The marriage produced a son named Etienne George-Nelson Maurice (born in November 1991) and a daughter named Ivy-Victoria Julia Maurice (born in December 1994). Sheryl married her present husband, Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent Hughes, on July 30, 2005, in Los Angeles, California.
Sheryl Lee Ralph made her professional acting debut as Barbara Hanley in “A Piece of the Action” (1977), which starred Sidney Poitier, who also directed the film, and Bill Cosby. The next year, she debuted on the small screen playing various characters on the unsold pilot “The Krofft Komedy Hour” and went on to appear in episodes of “A.E.S. Hudson Street,” “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” “Husbands, Wives & Lovers,” “Good Times” (all also 1978), “Wonder Woman” and “The Jeffersons” (both 1979).
Entering the 1980s, Ralph made the jump to Broadway when she landed a role in the musical “Reggae” (1980). However, she did not experience real recognition until she was cast as Deena Jones in the popular musical “Dreamgirls” (1981), opposite Jennifer Holliday, Loretta Devine, Ben Harney, Cleavant Derricks and Obba Babatundé. Helmed by Michael Bennett, the show opened on Broadway on December 20, 1981, and closed on August 11, 1985. It was nominated for 13 Tony Awards, including a Tony for Best Musical, and won six. Ralph was nominated for a Tony for Best Lead Actress in a Musical and a Drama Desk in the same category for her performance on the show.
Ralph released an album called “In the Evening” in 1984 under The New York Music Company. It produced two singles with “In The Evening” (1984) and “You're So Romantic” (1985). The album also contained the tracks “Evolution,” “Be Somebody,” “Give Me Love,” “Back to Being in Love,” “I'm Your Kind of Girl,” “B.A.B.Y.,” “Ready or Not” and “I'm So Glad That We Met.” She made her TV movie debut in “The Neighborhood” in 1982, where she costarred with Ron Masak, Christine Belford and Ben Masters, joined the cast of the NBC soap opera “Search for Tomorrow” as Laura McCarthy from 1983 to 1984, and guest starred in the short lived science fiction series “V: The Series” in 1984.
In 1985, Ralph costarred with Joanna Cassidy and John McCook in the series “Code Name: Foxfire,” but the show was axed after a few episodes. She next costarred with Marcia Cross and Jennifer Runyon in the short lived series “Pros & Cons” (1986, as Roberta), played Josie Clifford in “The Return of Typhoon Thompson” (1986), an episode of the Fred Dryer police series “Hunter,” supported Bonnie Franklin, Jeannetta Arnette and Trazana Beverley in the TV film “Sister Margaret and the Saturday Night Ladies” (1987), provided the voice of a dog named Rita in Disney's animated film “Oliver & Company” (1988), and appeared in an episode of “L.A. Law” called “Beef Jerky.” Sheryl had her first starring role in a feature when she was cast as Lola Quinn, the wife of Denzel Washington, in the thriller “The Mighty Quinn” (1989), an adaptation of the novel “Finding Maubee” by A.H.Z. Carr. The same year, she also appeared in the John Ritter comedy “Skin Deep,” for director/writer Blake Edwards. The actress then portrayed Ginger St. James on the syndicated sitcom “It's a Leaving.” She was on the show from 1986 until it ended in 1989.
In 1990, Ralph portrayed the role of Vicki St. James on the ABC sitcom “New Attitude,” but the show was canceled after a few episodes. The same year, she also landed the two episodic role of Mooshy Tucker on “Falcon Crest” and played Linda in “To Sleep with Anger,” a comedy film starring Danny Glover that was written and directed by Charles Burnett. She picked up an Independent Spirit for Best Supporting Female for her work in the latter project. Ralph next appeared as Miss Rosalee on the NBC television movie “The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw” (1991, starred Kenny Rogers and Reba McEntire) and Beverly, the girlfriend of Robert DeNiro, in the comedy “Mistress” (1992). She next portrayed Miss Loretta in the comedy “The Distinguished Gentleman” (1992) and joined the cast of the CBS sitcom “Designing Women” in the recurring role of Vegas showgirl Etienne Toussaint Bouvier. She stayed with the show until it ended in 1993.
After the demise of “Designing Women,” Ralph was cast as Maggie Foster on a new comedy series called “George” (1993), opposite George Foreman, Crystal Cooke and Larry Gilliard Jr., but the show only had a short life. The actress then worked with Patty Duke and Tracy Nelson on the CBS movie “No Child of Mine” (1993), appeared in “Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit” (1993), a sequel to the successful 1992 film “Sister Act,” acted in “The Flintstones” (1994), supported Dennis Hopper in the TV film “Witch Hunt” (1994) and worked with John Travolta and Harry Belafonte in the dramatic feature “White Man's Burden” (1995). She also starred as Sarah Davis in the short lived series “Street Gear” (1994-1995).
Ralph's television career enjoyed a major boost when she won the role of Deidra “Dee” Mitchell on the UPN sitcom “Moesha,” which starred R&B singer Brandy Norwood. The role brought her five consecutive Image nominations in the category of Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series from 1998 to 2002. While working on the series, Ralph also appeared in such films as “Lover's Knot” (1996), “Bogus” (1996), “Jamaica Beat” (1997), “Unconditional Love” (1999), “Personals” (1999) and “Deterrence” (1999), where she was nominated for a Black Reel Award in the category of Theatrical - Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Gayle Redford. She then acted in “Lost in the Pershing Point Hotel” (2000) and guest starred in the TV series “Oddville, MTV” (1997), “The Wild Thornberrys” (1998), “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” (1999), “The Parkers” (1999) and “Recess” (2001). She then received the recurring role of Dee Banks in the CBS series “The District” (4 episodes, 2000-2001). Behind the camera, Ralph made her debut as a director with “Secrets” (1998), a short film she produced and scripted. She went on to direct the satire “Race Card” (2000) and an episode of “The Parkers” called “Single Black Female” (2001).
In 2002, Ralph returned to Broadway for “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” where she was cast as Muzzy Van Hossmere. Under the direction of Michael Mayer, the production ran from April 2002 to June 2004 and won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Other original cast members included Sutton Foster, Marc Kudisch, Angela Christian, Gavin Creel, Harriet Harris, Ken Leung, Francis Jue, and Anne L. Nathan. She also appeared in the Jonee Ansa helmed film “Baby of the Family,” with Loretta Devine and Todd Bridges, and did voiceover work for the television series “The Proud Family” (as Aunt Dee), “Static Shock” (as Trina Jessup) and “Justice League” (as Cheetah). Ralph then guest starred in “Whoopi” (1 episode, 2003), “Las Vegas” (1 episode, 2003), “7th Heaven” (1 episode, 2006), “ER” (2 episodes, 2006), “Exes & Ohs” (2007) and “Hannah Montana” (2008), and portrayed a woman named Claire in the television series version of “Barbershop” (Showtime, 2005). In addition, she appeared in the made for TV films “Kink in My Hair” (2004) and “Odicie” (2007, as Aunt Amy) and the film “Frankie D” (2007).
Recently, in 2010, Ralph teamed up with Deitrick Haddon, Ariana Pierce and Ryan Pierce for the Joel Kapity directed drama “Blessed and Cursed.” She also had a role in the direct to video comedy film “Pastor Jones: The Complete First Season,” which was written, directed and starred Jean-Claude La Marre. She also provided the voice of Grams on an episode of “Zevo-3” called “Control.” She will portray Paulette in “The Cost of Heaven,” an upcoming film directed and penned by Kenneth Johnson. Costars of the film include Toni Trucks, Tim Reid, Bart Baggett, Hosea Chanchez, Roger Rose, Kasan Butcher and Andre Ware.
Independent Spirit: Best Supporting Female, “To Sleep with Anger,” 1991