First Time Emmy Winner Sheryl Lee Ralph Has A Legendary Broadway Background

After Sheryl Lee Ralph was announced as the Emmy Award winner for her role as Barbara Howard on "Abbott Elementary," she took to the stage and immediately began singing her face off — belting out the song "Endangered Species" by Dianne Reeves. As she held out a perfect note, completely enrapturing the audience, cheers erupted from the Emmy attendees, and probably everyone watching at home from their couches too. Thanks to the success and popularity of "Abbott Elementary," a world of people are learning about Ralph's undeniable talent for the very first time, but make no mistake, Ralph is not a newcomer.

"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 in her acceptance speech. It's a fitting statement from a woman who landed her breakthrough role as Deena Jones in the Broadway musical "Dreamgirls" back in 1981, receiving a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical. For those who don't know "Dreamgirls" outside of the movie, Sheryl Lee Ralph was the original woman to play the role that would later be performed by Beyoncé. So you can see why her achieving her first Emmy after four decades is more than a long time coming.

A Broadway legend

"Dreamgirls" may have been the role that put Ralph on the map, but it certainly was not her first time originating a role. The year before, Ralph originated the role of Faith in the show "Reggae," while performing in the show "Swing" that same year. But when "Dreamgirls" came around, it was as if Ralph was made for the role. The Deena Jones role is based heavily on Diana Ross, who Ralph perfectly emulated down to the 1000-watt smile. The original Broadway production of "Dreamgirls," is unbelievably impressive, with Ralph starring alongside Grammy award-winner Jennifer Holliday and fellow Emmy winner Loretta Devine. The only reason Ralph didn't take home the Tony that year was because the award went to Jennifer Holliday, but the production did win 6 of its 12 Tony nominations that year.

Ralph has consistently been working across film, television, and theatre since the 1970s, but Broadway has always been a place that has embraced her. She played Muzzy Van Hossmere in the 2002 Original Broadway production of "Thoroughly Modern Millie," came in as a notable replacement in "Wicked" as Madame Morrible, lent her voice as Miss Walker in the Original Studio Cast Recording of "Goosebumps the Musical," and dazzled as the Producer in "Thoughts of a Colored Man." To put it simply, Sheryl Lee Ralph has always been a superstar, and she doesn't need an Emmy to prove that to anyone ... but it sure is nice that she's finally being recognized.

The second season of "Abbott Elementary" arrives on ABC on September 21, 2022, and it'll have you, like Ralph's Mrs. Howard, shouting "sweet baby Jesus, and the grown one too!"