Sheryl Lee Ralph Through the Years: From ‘Dreamgirls’ to ‘Abbott Elementary’

Paying her dues. When Sheryl Lee Ralph won her first Primetime Emmy Award in September 2022, the Abbott Elementary star was overcome with emotion after spending more than 40 years working in Hollywood. As she took the stage to accept her trophy for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, the Connecticut native belted out a few lines of Dianne Reeves’ “Endangered Species," earning a standing ovation before delivering a poetic speech. "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," Ralph told the audience. "This is what striving looks like, and don’t you ever, ever give up on you. Because if you get a Quinta Brunson [showrunner of Abbott Elementary] in your corner, if you get a husband like mine [Vincent Hughes] in your corner, if you get children like mine in your corner, and if you’ve got friends like everybody who voted for me, cheered for me, loved me — thank you, thank you, thank you!” Prior to her Emmy win, Ralph got her first big break when Sidney Poitier cast her as a teen delinquent in 1977's A Piece of the Action. Ralph hit Broadway a few years later, earning a Tony nomination for her role in the original cast of Dreamgirls. Later, she became a sitcom regular with a role on Moesha for six seasons 1996 to 2001. However, it was winning an Emmy at age 65 that changed everything for the Sister Act 2 star. "It’s so interesting because, first of all, yesterday’s price is not today’s price. Aha! That changes immediately," Ralph told The Hollywood Reporter in December 2022. "There are doors that have probably been closed that on September 13th [the day after the Emmys] flew open, and people want you to know that the door was open. People have been very, very direct in saying things like,'This is the best time in your whole career; ask for what you want and don’t be shy about it.' To hear people say to you, 'It might have been good for you before, but it’s about to get a whole lot better,' it’s been absolutely amazing." As she continued to pick up hardware for her mantle, the Connecticut native made sure to keep her acceptance speeches inspirational. "To all of you watching here, come close to the screen and listen," she said while accepting a trophy at the Critics' Choice Awards in January 2023. "People don’t have to like you. People don’t have to love you. They don’t even have to respect you. But when you look in the mirror, you better love what you see. You better love what you see!” Scroll down to take a look at Ralph through the years: