Veteran actor Sheryl Lee Ralph, an ageless stalwart of the industry who won an Emmy as a first-time nominee at the age of 66, savored her victory by bellowing powerful lyrics about being a being an ‘endangered species’ and imploring others to never give up on themselves, no matter how long it takes to be seen.
Ralph won television’s top honor on Monday night for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy for her role as Barbara Howard, a beloved and matriarchal kindergarten teacher on “Abbott Elementary,” the “mockumentary” sitcom from ‘ABC about fiery teachers in a woefully underfunded Philadelphia public school.
In tears before gathering to accept the trophy inside the Microsoft Theater, Ralph opened his acceptance speech with a powerfully-voiced acapella version of Dianne Reeves’ song “Endangered Species,” saying, “I am a woman, I’m an artist/And I know where my voice belongs.
“To anyone who’s ever had a dream and thought your dream wasn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t come true, I’m here to tell you that’s what you believe in,” Ralph said before to pump his fist. . “This is what effort looks like!”
Ralph’s honor comes after decades in the business with multiple iconic roles – from “Dreamgirls” on Broadway in the 1980s, to stepmother to the lead character in the 1990s sitcom “Moesha.”
In an interview with The Associated Press, Ralph expressed his enthusiasm for diversity at the Emmys, praising the Korean-language “Squid Game” as well as his own show, “Abbott Elementary,” which has a mostly black cast.
“The fact that this is the first time since the 1980s that people from a majority black cast have all been nominated, the first time in 40 years,” Ralph said. “The fact that this is my first nomination, my first invitation to the awards and guess what? Nothing before his time. Everything is just in time. And I’m happy to be here because I’m sailing, baby. I love that.”
Ahead of the awards show, Ralph spoke on the red carpet about finally being appreciated in Hollywood, saying she initially thought the role of Ms. Howard would be a thankless gig.
“I was just doing my job because I felt like it. I thought I was just going to be there to pick up a check,” Ralph said in an interview with People magazine. “I had no idea people would see the intricacies of the work. It’s very easy for people to miss the layers you sometimes put on as an actor. And they’ve seen it all.
She also recalled that decades ago, legendary actor Robert De Niro advised her to keep going even though Hollywood “wasn’t looking for black girls.”
“Thirty years later I see my nomination and thank God I didn’t give up because the climb was tough, but every step is worth it,” Ralph said moments before his victory.
Ralph looked resplendent in a black velvet strapless dress with an orange underside and an upper thigh slit and rocked a bedazzled high ponytail, with social media taking note of her sexy age-defying look.
“You don’t do it at 30, you can do it at 50,” Ralph said in an interview with E! “You don’t do it at 50, you can do it at 60 and still give them goodness.”
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