Sheryl Lee Ralph is an actress, singer, director, producer and writer. She was born in Waterbury, Connecticut to Stanley, a college administrator, and Ivy, a fashion designer from Jamaica. She spent much of her childhood living between Mandeville, Jamaica and Long Island, New York. Sheryl attended Uniondale High school in Uniondale, New York and graduated in 1972.
In 1973 she was crowned Miss Black Teen-Age New York. She then attended Rutgers University where she earned a B.A. in English Literature and Theater Arts and at age 19 became the youngest woman ever to graduate from Rutgers. While attending Rutgers, Ms. Ralph was one of the earliest winners of the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship awarded by the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.
She started her career in the theater, trained with the Negro Ensemble Company in New York, and in 1981, originated the lead role of Deena in the hit Broadway musical, “Dreamgirls” for which she earned a tony nomination. Sheryl is also well known for her screen appearances in 25 films and over 100 television programs.
She started out with a small part in Sidney Poitier’s “A Piece of the Action” in 1977. Since that time she has appeared in numerous productions, most notably in long running television series: “It’s a Living” 1986-1989, “Designing Women” from 1992-1993, and “Moesha” from 1996-2001 for which she won five NAACP Awards. She has also been nominated for an Antoinette Perry Award for best actress in a musical, a Drama Desk Award for outstanding actress in a musical and an Image Award for outstanding supporting actress in a TV series.
Ms. Ralph has had turns at director of screen productions including her own screenplay for “Race Card” released in 2000, and she is the creator and producer of “Divas: Simply Singing”, an evening of song and entertainment that after 22 years is the longest consecutive running musical AIDS benefit in the country.
She founded her own production company, Island Girl Productions, and wrote, directed and produced her award winning film, “Secrets”, a finalist in the HBO Film Short Competition, Showtime Filmmakers Series, Acapulco Black Film Festival, Hollywood Film Festival, Pan African Film Festival, Urban World Film Festival and “Audience Favorite” at Outfest Film Festival. She is also the founding creator of The International Jamerican Film & Music Festival, which in five years gave birth to five SHOWTIME Filmmaker Finalists.
Sheryl Lee Ralph is also a much sought-after speaker, host, and guest-host and has been featured on numerous talk shows, TV specials, award shows and magazines. She is a passionate AIDS activist and founded The Divinely Inspired Victoriously Aware (DIVA) Foundation in memory of the many friends she has lost to the disease.
Quoting from nationalblackaidsday.com: “A passionate AIDS activist, Sheryl Lee Ralph is founding Director of The Divinely Inspired Victoriously Aware (DIVA) Foundation. The DIVA Foundation founded in 1990 is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, created as a living memorial to the many friends she had lost to HIV/AIDS as an original cast member of Broadways DREAMGIRLS and because of her concern for the threat HIV/AIDS posed to women and children.
In her work of Driving Infectious Viruses Away, the foundation focuses on HIV/AIDS awareness, testing, erasing stigma, lowering of the HIV infection rate especially as it pertains to women, girls and young people and the development of new and effective programs to combat the disease using the arts. The foundation disseminates information, and provides advocacy and mobilization from a uniquely and unapologetically artistic feminine point of view.
Sheryl Lee Ralph was awarded the first Red Ribbon Award at the UN for her unique use of the arts in HIV/AIDS activism. Rich in creativity and spirit, Sheryl Lee designed a successful line of socially conscious red ribbon T-shirts which offer responsible messages in style and beauty. She has received Doctorates in Humane Letters from Tougaloo College and Huston-Tillotson University in recognition of her AIDS activism.” http://nationalblackaidsday.org/spokespersons/sheryl-lee-ralph/
Source: Institute of Caribbean Studies newsletter