Jamaican American actress, singer, and producer Sheryl Lee Ralph was honored at the Essence Festival for her activism and work battling HIV and AIDS. She was the recipient of a McDonald’s 365Black Award, which is given for advocacy Upon receiving the award, Ralph said that it was “absolutely amazing” to be recognized for her activism “because I didn’t think anyone cared about the number of people still getting infected and being affected by HIV/AIDS,” Ralph was one of several women to be awarded for their part in making African American communities stronger.
Ralph has also been horned with induction into the Institute of Caribbean Studies (ICS) “Wall of Fame.” Her induction by the organization, which is based in Washington DC, was part of celebrations for National Caribbean American Heritage Month.
Ralph, was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, and was raised in both Mandeville in Jamaica and Long Island, New York. Her mother is Ivy Ralph, a Jamaican fashion designer, and her father is Stanley Ralph, a college professor. Before graduating from high school in 1972, Ralph starred in her school production of “Oklahoma!” playing in the role of Ado Annie. Ralph graduated from Rutgers University in New Jersey at the age of 19, the youngest woman in history to graduate from the university.
While at Rutgers, she was one of the earliest people to be awarded the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship presented by the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. During her last year at Rutgers, Ralph was named by Glamour magazine as one of the Top 10 college women in the United States. Ralph had originally wanted to study medicine, but due to a combination of confronting cadavers in a pre-med class and the award of the American College Theater Festival scholarship, she decided to pursue the performing arts. In 2003, Ralph served as the commencement speaker for the graduating class at Rutgers.
In 1982, she was nominated for a Best Actress Tony Award in a Musical for her performance as the character Deena Jones in “Dreamgirls.” Ralph released her only album, “In the Evening,” in 1984. The title track from that album reached Number 6 on the Billboard Dance Music/Club Play Singles chart that year. In1998, she starred in “Oliver & Company,” a Disney film in which she provided the voice of the character Rita. In “The Mighty Quinn,” which was released in 1989, Ralph had her first leading role when she played the wife of Denzel Washington’s character. In 1992, she starred in the title role of the film “Mistress,” which also starred actor Robert De Niro. Ralph appeared in the CBS television network’s daytime soap opera “Search for Tomorrow” while starring in “Dreamgirls” on Broadway at the same time.