The Evolution of Sheryl Lee Ralph

·4 min read
Photo:  Juan Pablo Rico (Getty Images)
Photo: Juan Pablo Rico (Getty Images)

Sheryl Lee Ralph is the definitive entertainer. Every performance she delivers makes the audience smile and she never misses. Whether you’re just discovering her work through her Emmy-winning role on Abbott Elementary or have been a fan since she was one of the original Dreamgirls, there’s no doubt she’s a bonafide legend. As the world finally recognizes her greatness, giving her her long-overdue, well-deserved flowers, let’s take a look at The Evolution of Sheryl Lee Ralph.

Dreamgirls: 1981


Dreamgirls - “Dreamgirls” (1983) - MDA Telethon

If you only know Deena Jones through Beyonce’s portrayal of her in the movie adaptation of Dreamgirls, then you don’t really know the character. Sheryl Lee Ralph is able to make all the manipulations of the character seem somewhat understandable because how could you ever deny that she’s a star?

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It’s a Living: 1986-89

Screenshot:  It’s a Living
Screenshot: It’s a Living

After guest appearances on shows like The Jeffersons, Good Times and a stint on the soap Search for Tomorrow, It’s a Living was Ralph’s first major lead cast role on TV. As Ginger St. James she was the only character who felt like a real person on the over-the-top ‘80s sitcom. She was just a fun friend you were hanging out with at work.

The Mighty Quinn: 1989

Screenshot:  The Mighty Quinn
Screenshot: The Mighty Quinn

Sure, The Mighty Quinn is a breakout role for leading man Denzel Washington, but his performance is only as good as his co-star. In her first leading role in a movie, Ralph goes toe to toe with Denzel as his estranged wife Lola, and even outshines him a few times.

DIVAS Simply Singing!: 1990

Photo:  Frazer Harrison (Getty Images)
Photo: Frazer Harrison (Getty Images)

In 1990, the award-winning actress decided to use her name and talent to honor the many friends she’s lost to HIV/AIDS, establishing The D.I.V.A. Foundation. Every year in Los Angeles, the organization puts on the benefit concert DIVAS Simply Singing! Raising Health Awareness, which held its 30th edition in June, raising money for Project Angel Food and Better Brothers Los Angeles. Ralph invites her friends to perform, have fun and bring attention to important causes and charities.

The Distinguished Gentleman: 1992

Photo:  Dia Dipasupil (Getty Images)
Photo: Dia Dipasupil (Getty Images)

Not everyone can keep up with Eddie Murphy, but the actress had no issues matching the funnyman’s energy in this political comedy. Look, I’m not going to claim The Distinguished Gentleman is a classic, but as one of Murphy’s con artist partners, Ralph makes every scene she’s in seem pivotal to the plot.

Moesha: 1996-2001


Moesha - Frank’s Situation

Moesha is a teen comedy, which means it’s always going to be about the kids. However, as Brandy’s new stepmother Dee, the TV vet never lets her character fade into the background. She’s an important part of Moesha’s transition into adulthood, and Ralph never allows the audience to think otherwise.

Ray Donovan: 2013

Photo:  Jamie McCarthy (Getty Images)
Photo: Jamie McCarthy (Getty Images)

Sheryl Lee Ralph is known for musicals and more comedic roles, but every once in a while, she lets her dramatic abilities shine and remind us all how blessed we are to be entertained by her. Though the singer/actress’ Claudette didn’t appear often, she brought excitement every time she showed up. Because even in small bites, the original Dreamgirl always steals the spotlight.

A Black Lady Sketch Show: 2019

Photo:  Michael Tran (Getty Images)
Photo: Michael Tran (Getty Images)

Sheryl Lee Ralph was one of A Black Lady Sketch Show’s many big-name Season 1 guests. She played an overexcited mother in a sketch about a proposal gone wrong. And while she wasn’t asked to be as ridiculous as other guest stars, the real treat is this is the role that introduced her to one of the series stars, Quinta Brunson, who absolutely knew she would cast Ralph in something special.

Abbott Elementary: 2021

Photo:  ABC/Gilles Mingasson
Photo: ABC/Gilles Mingasson

As exhausted as Barbara is with the system, all Janine’s ideas and even some of the kids, she’s still completely committed as a teacher. Sheryl Lee Ralph never loses sight of her character’s joy. Barbara is definitely a product of Quinta Brunson’s amazing imagination, but she also wouldn’t be half as entertaining in the hands of another actress.

Emmy Award Winner - 2022


Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series: 74th Emmy Awards

With two of Abbott Elementary’s spectacular women nominated for Supporting Actress in a Comedy, there were some questions about whether they would cancel each other out. However, it was Ralph’s time to shine, as she was finally rewarded for her singular talent. The pure joy and gratefulness in her acceptance speech was beautiful. It’s sure to be one of the most memorable wins in Emmy history.