Actress, singer, author, and activist Sheryl Lee Ralph was born in 1955 in Waterbury, Connecticut to Ivy Ralph, a Jamaican fashion designer, and Stanley Ralph, an American college professor. She was raised in Mandeville, Jamaica, and Long Island, New York. DNA analysis has shown that she is descended from the Tikar people of Cameroon. She attended Uniondale High School in New York, where she was the star of the school’s product of “Oklahoma!” In 1972, the year of her graduation, she was named Miss Black Teenage New York. When she was 19, Ralph became the youngest woman to graduate from Rutgers University. During her time at Rutgers, she won the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship from the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival and was also named one of the Top 10 College Women in the US by Glamour magazine.
She had originally planned to study medicine, but after winning the theater festival scholarship decided to pursue a career in the performing arts. Ralph’s screen debut was in the 1977 comedy “A Piece of the Action,” but her breakthrough role was playing “Deena Jones” in the Broadway musical “Dreamgirls” in 1981. She was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance. Ralph has appeared in numerous television and film roles, being best known for portraying “Dee” in the television sitcom “Moesha.” This role led to her being named one of “TV’s Favorite Moms.” She won a Best Supporting Actress Award at the Independent Spirit Awards for her appearance in the film “To Sleep with Anger.” In 2003, she was the commencement speaker at her alma mater of Rutgers and was inducted as an honorary member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority at its 47th National Convention in 2004. She received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Tougaloo College in 2008. Ralph also authored a successful book “Redefining Diva: Live Lessons from the Original Dreamgirl” in 2012.