Pausing to compose herself, Sheryl Lee Ralph stepped toward the microphone, closed her eyes, took a deep breath and roared.
“I am an endangered species, but I sing no victim’s song,” she bellowed, using the opening stanza of Dianne Reeves' 1993 song, “Endangered Species,” as her victory anthem.
“I am a woman, I am an artist, and I know where my voice belongs,” she continued, as the audience at the Microsoft Theater rose to applaud her.
Ralph, 65, won the Emmy for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series for her portrayal of steely-yet-tender teacher Barbara Howard in ABC’s breakout sitcom “Abbott Elementary.”
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Her win, in the first hour of the telecast, was not only the first award given to a network show during Monday’s ceremony, but also Ralph’s first accolade of any kind since a 1990 Independent Spirit Award for the film “To Sleep with Anger.”
Looking regal in a strapless black gown with a high thigh slit, the Broadway powerhouse (she was nominated for a Tony Award in 1982 for her role as Deena Jones in “Dreamgirls”) with scads of TV credits (“Moesha,” “Ray Donovan”) delivered an inspiring speech about resilience.
“To anyone who has ever, ever had a dream and thought your dream wasn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t come true, I am here to tell you that this is what believing looks like. This is what striving looks like. And don’t you ever, ever give up on you,” she said.
Ralph directed praise toward “Abbott Elementary” creator Quinta Brunson, whom she thanked for having in her corner, as well as her family and “friends, like everybody who voted for me, cheered for me, loved me.”
Ralph’s table of “Abbott Elementary” castmates were hardly the only ones in the room showering their colleague with long-due applause.
Fellow nominee Hannah Waddingham ("Ted Lasso") stood tall as she cheered Ralph, while Lizzo, seated next to host Kenan Thompson for the next bit, looked genuinely stunned in her mountainous red taffeta dress as she mouthed the most appropriate reaction to Ralph’s win: “Wow.”
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Sheryl Lee Ralph accepts first Emmy for Abbott Elementary with emotion