Ralph, Sheryl Lee 1956–
Sheryl Lee Ralph 1956–
Sheryl Lee Ralph, best known as Moesha’s television stepmom, is an accomplished actress and vocalist whose path to stardom has been occasionally blunted by the shortage of solid roles for women of color in the entertainment industry. Ralph began her career in the late 1970s, and for a time had to earn a living as a soap opera regular. In the 1990s, as color barriers began to disintegrate somewhat, Ralph has won a number of serious parts in critically acclaimed films; more importantly, as head of her own production company she is able to channel the determination that guided her through the rough days of her career into projects that will benefit other African American entertainment professionals.
Ralph was born in Connecticut in the mid-1950s, but grew up in Long Island and Jamaica as a result of her parents’ ties to the island nation. Her mother was a clothing designer, and her father was first a teacher and then a school administrator; both encouraged their daughter’s creative as well as intellectual gifts. Ralph planned on becoming a doctor until she had to dissect a cadaver, and instead entered an American College Theater Festival competition and won a scholarship, which she used at Rutgers University in New Jersey. She earned a degree in English literature and theater when she was just 19, and moved to Los Angeles to launch her career.
Ralph was admittedly unprepared for the reality of Hollywood in the mid-1970s, where there were few roles for African American actresses. As she recalled in an interview with New York Times writer Cathryn Jakobson Ramin, film parts were for African American women seemed limited to “hooker, welfare momma, naked or dead.” Ralph also reported that one casting agent told her, “You’re obviously beautiful and talented, but what do I do with you? Team you up with Tom Cruise? Do you kiss him? And who comes to see this movie?,” she said in the New York Times interview. Ralph did manage to land a role in a 1977 Sidney Poitier film, A Piece of the Action, and found a more hospitable climate in television, making a living with roles on sitcoms such as Sanford Arms, a sequel to Sanford & Son, and The Jeffersons
Somewhat vanquished, Ralph headed back to the East
At a Glance…
Born December 30, 1956, in Waterbuty, CT;daughter of Stanley (a teacher) and Ivy (a clothing designer) Ralph; married Eric George Maurice (an exporter), December, 1990; children: Etienne Maurice, Education; Earned B.A. from Rutgers University, mid-1970s.
Career: Actress and singer. Made first film appearance in A Piece of the Action, 1977; appeared as Deena Jones in Dreamgirh on Broadway, early 1980s; released pop album, In the Evening, 1984.
Awards: Nominated for a Tony Award and a Drama Desk Award, both 1982, for Dreamgirls
Addresses: Office—c/o Michael Schlessinger, Michael Schlessinger & Associates, 8730 Sunset Blvd., Suite 22, Los Angeles, CA 90069.
Coast and her original love, the stage. By 1981 she had won the coveted role of Deena Jones in what would become the hugely successful Broadway musical Dreamgirls; she was cast alongside Jennifer Holliday in a Supremes-like tale of a trio of female singers who make it big in the Sixties. Ralph’s performance, for which she earned comparisons to Diana Ross, landed her a Tony nomination, but did little to further her career, or much else in her life. “We spent all those hours as the toast of the town, and then, after the curtain, we’d get out on the corner—and do you think a cab would stop for us?” Ralph recalled in the New York Times interview with Ramin.
During much of the ensuing decade, Ralph continued in the theater, recorded an album—1984’s In the Evening —and also pursued film roles, still with little luck. “It wasn’t that I was losing parts,” she explained to Ramin. “It was that there were no parts. Inside, I got so angry.” She still found work in television—appearing as a regular on the ABC-TV waitressing sitcom It’s a Living and winning the occasional part on shows such as L.A. Law She also wrote Sheryl Lee Ralph’s Beauty Basics, published in 1987. Finally, in 1989 Ralph was cast in The Mighty Quinn, a murder mystery which put her opposite Denzel Washington; she also performed a song on the film’s soundtrack. Next, she won a choice part in the acclaimed drama To Sleep with Anger opposite Danny Glover, and starred in an ABC-TV sitcom titled New Attitude
This period of Ralph’s life also marked a personal turning point: she was married in December of 1990 to Eric Maurice, a dealer in African art and textiles whom Ralph met on the French Riviera. She had made finding a life partner one of her goals, she told Jet writer Aldore Collier, after one of her traditional New Year’s Eve parties, which also marks her birthday celebration. As she recalled in the Jet interview, “…there were all of these people at my house having a good time, and they were all with somebody and I realized it was my party and I was the only person who wasn’t there with somebody.” She tied a string around her finger to remind her of her goal, and kept it there until it was fulfilled.
By 1992 Ralph and Maurice had married in a Caribbean ceremony and had a child together, Etienne Maurice, and she also won a role in the hit CBS-TV sitcom Designing Women as a former Vegas showgirl cast as Meshach Taylor’s new bride. Again, Ralph’s success represented her own particular brand of determination: she had met the show’s producer, Harry Thomason, at a Democratic Party fundraiser, and in discussing the show—which revolved around a successful interior design firm in the South—told him, “‘you mean to tell me after seven years you can’t find a Black woman to be friends with those White women—in Atlanta?’” Ralph recalled in an interview with Essence’s Joy Duckett Cain.
As the decade progressed, the rules changed somewhat as Hollywood came to realize that box-office takes reflected a cross-section of the American populace, and that films that played to certain segments might indeed be financially successful. Ralph appeared in The Distinguished Gentleman as the equally conniving cousin of Eddie Murphy, who starred as a con man suddenly elected to Congress. She also won kudos for her role in the 1992 film Mistress, in which she appeared in the title role as a formidable diva/actress romantically linked with a powerful Hollywood executive played by Robert De Niro. The following year, Ralph was cast in Sister Act 2: Black in the Habit, and appeared along side former boxing great George Foreman in his sitcom George. She also appeared as Mrs. Pyrite in the 1994 film version of The Flintstones, in an HBO movie titled Witch Hunt as a Jamaican witch alongside Dennis Hopper and Eric Bogosian, and earned a role in the 1995 John Travolta film White Man’s Burden
In an interview, Ralph explained the idea behind her determination and career longevity: “The secret is truly inside yourself,” she told Ebony Male in 1994. “… You’ve got to be in this business because you know you’re the greatest thing to come along since sliced bread.” Despite the change in fortunes during the 1990s, Ralph’s fortitude after so many years allowed her to be choosy about the parts offered her. “There are certain roles that I will not do because I don’t want my grandmother or my aunt to see me like that,” she told Essence’s Cain. In 1996 Ralph was cast in a pilot for a new sitcom on the UPN Network that turned out to be a runaway hit, Moesha. The show starred teen singer Brandy, and Ralph was cast to play her new stepmother.
Ralph has also launched her own production company, Island Girl, which buys, makes, and sells film and television projects. She has also become active in a number of Los Angeles charities, including the Los Angeles Children’s Toy Drive, which she began with Denzel Washington and his wife. For much of the 1990s she has produced the annual concert “Divas: Simply Singing!,” the proceeds from which are donated to AIDS organizations. “People always talk about giving back,” she told Cain in the Essence interview. “But you have to give back even when the cameras aren’t running. You have to do it when nobody’s watching.”
In the late 1990s Ralph busied herself with her Moesha role and her Island Girl projects, which included one script that posits what might happen if Noah’s Ark had been headed by a young black woman, as well as the movie Secrets, which Ralph wrote, directed, and starred in during 1997. To take a break from such a commitment-laden schedule, Ralph confesses to frequenting the occasional spa, and told Essence in 1996 that the most important benefit she has gleaned from her visits has been learning how to relax through breathing exercises. “I also stop and take time to look around, to discover something that I haven’t seen before,” she told Essence
Ebony Male, October 1994, pp. 54-55.
Essence, December 1993, p. 62; October 1996, p. 18.
Jet, August 27, 1990, pp. 56-58.
New York Times, January 3, 1993, sec. 2, p. 22.
People, December 14, 1992, pp. 17-19, December 12, 1994.
Ralph, Sheryl Lee 1956(?)–
Ralph, Sheryl Lee 1956(?)–
Born December 30, 1956 (some sources say 1955), in Waterbury, CT; daughter of Stanley (a college administrator) and Ivy (a fashion designer) Ralph; sister of Michael Ralph (an actor); married Eric George Maurice (an art collector), December, 1990 (divorced, 2001); married Vincent Hughes (a state senator), July 30, 2005; children: (first marriage) Etienne George-Nelson, Ivy-Victoria Julia. Education: Rutgers University, B.A., English literature and theatre arts; trained for the stage with the Negro Ensemble Company, New York City.
Actress, singer, director, producer, and writer. Elsinore's Atlantic Casino Hotel, Atlantic City, NJ, singer, 1985; Island Girl Productions, founder and owner, beginning 1990; International Jamaican Film and Music Festival, affiliated with "Cinema Inna Yard." Designer of Le Petit Etienne, a line of children's clothing; codirector of annual Los Angeles Children's Toy Drive.
Screen Actors Guild, Actors' Equity Association, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Delta Sigma Theta (honorary member).
Antoinette Perry Award nomination, best actress in a musical, Drama Desk Award nomination, outstanding actress in a musical, 1982, for Dreamgirls; Independent Spirit Award, best supporting female, Independent Features Project West, 1991, for To Sleep with Anger; Image Award nominations, outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, all for Moesha.
Barbara Hanley, A Piece of the Action, Warner Bros., 1977.
Lola, Finding Maubee, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/United Artists, 1988.
Voice of Rita, Oliver & Company (animated), Buena Vista, 1988.
Lola Quinn, The Mighty Quinn, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/United Artists, 1989.
Receptionist, Skin Deep (also known as Blake Edward's "Skin Deep"), Twentieth Century-Fox, 1989.
Linda, To Sleep with Anger, Samuel Goldwyn, 1990.
Miss Loretta, The Distinguished Gentleman, Buena Vista, 1992.
Beverly Dumont, Mistress (also known as Hollywood Mistress), Tribeca, 1992.
Florence Watson, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, Buena Vista, 1993.
Miss Pyrite, The Flintstones, Universal, 1994.
Roberta, White Man's Burden (also known as White Man), 1995.
Charlotte, Lover's Knot, Republic, 1996.
Ruth Clark, Bogus, Warner Bros., 1996.
Sylvia Jones, Jamaica Beat, 1997.
Chantal, Personals (also known as Hook'd Up), Unapix Entertainment, 1998.
Voice, The Easter Story Keepers, 1998.
Gayle Redford, Deterrence, 1999.
Linda Cray, Unconditional Love, Home Entertainment, 1999.
Nurse, Lost in the Pershing Point Hotel, Pershing Point Productions/Pierrepont Productions, 2000.
Mamie, Baby of the Family, DownSouth Filmworks, 2001.
Mama, Frankie D, 2007.
Herself, Angels Can't Help But Laugh (documentary), 2007.
Director, Race Card, 2000.
Television Appearances; Series:
Laura "Mac" McCarthy, Search for Tomorrow, CBS, 1983-84.
Maggie Bryan, Code Name: Foxfire, NBC, 1985.
Ginger St. James, It's a Living, syndicated, 1986-89.
Vicki St. James, New Attitude, 1990.
Etienne Toussant-Bouvier, Designing Women, CBS, 1992-93.
Maggie Foster, George, ABC, 1993.
Dee Mitchell, Moesha, UPN, 1996-2001.
Lieutenant Dee Banks, The District, CBS, 2000-2001.
Reverend Ruby, Exes & Oh's, 2006.
Television Appearances; Miniseries:
Miss Rosalee, The Gambler Returns: Luck of the Draw, NBC, 1991.
Television Appearances; Movies:
Doris Campbell, The Neighborhood (also known as Breslin's "Neighborhood"), NBC, 1982.
Corelle, Sister Margaret and the Saturday Night Ladies, CBS, 1986.
Marjorie Duncan, No Child of Mine (also known as The Fight for Baby Jesse and The Fight for Jesse), CBS, 1993.
Hypolita Kropotkin, Witch Hunt, HBO, 1994.
Dr. Pamela Prentiss, The Jennie Project, Disney Channel, 2001.
Aunt Amy, Odicie, Black Entertainment Television, 2007.
Television Appearances; Specials:
The 7th Annual Black Achievement Awards, 1986.
Presenter, The 19th Annual NAACP Image Awards, NBC, 1987.
Happy 100th Birthday, Hollywood! (also known as Happy Birthday, Hollywood!), ABC, 1987.
Performer, The 42nd Annual Tony Awards, CBS, 1988.
The 16th Annual Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, syndicated, 1989.
Host, The 11th Annual American Black Achievement Awards, syndicated, 1989.
The 22nd Annual NAACP Image Awards, NBC, 1990.
Host, Story of a People: The Black Road to Hollywood, 1990.
Voices That Care, Fox, 1991.
Host, Story of a People: The Black Road to Hollywood, syndicated, 1991.
The 24th Annual NAACP Image Awards, NBC, 1992.
Children of Africa, 1993.
Presenter, The 7th Annual Soul Train Music Awards, syndicated, 1993.
Judge, The 1994 Miss USA Pageant, CBS, 1994.
It's Hot in Here: UPN Fall Preview, UPN, 1996.
"Secrets," Showtime Black Filmmaker Showcase, Showtime, 1997.
Acapulco Black Film Festival, 2000.
Judge, The 80th Annual Miss America Pageant, ABC, 2000.
The 42nd Annual L.A. County Arts Commission Holiday Celebration, 2001.
10 Biggest Celebrity Oops, E! Entertainment Television, 2004.
E! 101 Most Starlicious Makeovers, E! Entertainment Television, 2004.
101 Most Unforgettable SNL Moments, E! Entertainment Television, 2004.
E! 101 Most Awesome Moments in Entertainment, E! Entertainment Television, 2004.
Novelette, Kink in My Hair, 2004.
I Love the '90s: Part Deux, VH1, 2005.
Bring That Year Back 2006: Laugh Now, Cry Later, Black Entertainment Television, 2006.
Television Appearances; Pilots:
The Krofft Komedy Hour, ABC, 1978.
Maggie Bryan, Code Name: Foxfire (also known as Slay It Again, Sam), NBC, 1985.
Roberta, Pros and Cons, ABC, 1986.
Vicki St. James, New Attitude, ABC, 1990.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
Nurse, "Shut Down," A.E.S. Hudson Street, 1978.
Vanessa, "J. J. and the Plumber's Helper," Good Times, 1978.
Joelle, "Murray Gets Sacked and Paula Gets Hired," Husbands, Wives, and Lovers, CBS, 1978.
Bobbie, "The Spaceships Are Coming," Wonder Woman (also known as The New Adventures of Wonder Woman and The New Original Wonder Woman), CBS, 1979.
Jeanie, "Louise's Convention," The Jeffersons, 1979.
Glenna, "The Overlord," V (also known as V: The Series), 1984.
Maggie Bryan, "La Paloma," Code Name: Foxfire (also known as Slay It Again, Sam), NBC, 1985.
"Love and the English Teacher," New Love American Style, ABC, 1986.
Josie Clifford, "The Return of Typhoon Thompson," Hunter, NBC, 1986.
"Love Is a Kick," New Love American Style, ABC, 1986.
Renee Quintana, "Beef Jerky," L.A. Law, NBC, 1987.
Show singer, "Gershwin's Trunk," Amazing Stories (also known as Steven Spielberg's "Amazing Stories"), 1987.
Body by Jake, syndicated, 1988.
Mooshy Tucker, "Dark Streets," Falcon Crest, 1990.
Mooshy Tucker, "Crimes of the Past," Falcon Crest, 1990.
Host, Soul Train, 1996.
The Rosie O'Donnell Show, syndicated, 1996, 1998.
Oddville, MTV, 1997.
Voice of second lioness, "Flood Warning," The Wild Thornberrys (animated), Nickelodeon, 1998.
Zsa Zsa Goowhiggie, "What Price Harvey?" Sabrina, the Teenage Witch (also known as Sabrina), ABC, 1999.
Dee Mitchell, "Daddy's Girl," The Parkers, ABC, 1999.
Hollywood Squares (also known as H2 and H2: Hollywood Squares), 1999, 2001.
Voice of Mrs. Lasalle, "Me Know No," Recess (also known as Disney's "Recess"), Disney Channel, 2000.
The Roseanne Show, 2000.
Dee Banks, The District, CBS, 2000.
Voice of Aunt Dee, "Romeo Must Wed," The Proud Family (animated), Disney Channel, 2002.
Voice of Trina Jessup, "Pop's Girlfriend," Static Shock (animated), The WB, 2002.
Voice of Cheetah, "Injustice for All: Parts 1 & 2," Justice League (animated; also known as JL and Justice League Unlimited), Cartoon Network, 2002.
Voice of Trina Jessup, "Consequences," Static Shock (animated), The WB, 2003.
Florence, "She Ain't Heavy, She's My Partner," Whoopi, NBC, 2003.
Janet Ellis, "Luck Be a Lady," Las Vegas, NBC, 2003.
The Wayne Brady Show, syndicated, 2003.
Voice of Cheetah, "Kid Stuff," Justice League (animated; also known as JL and Justice League Unlimited), Cartoon Network, 2004.
Claire, "Madonna Is a Ho," Barbershop, Showtime, 2005.
Claire, "What's Good for the Cos" Barbershop, Showtime, 2005.
Claire, "A Black Man Invented the Stop Light," Barbershop, Showtime, 2005.
Claire, "Debates and Dead People," Barbershop, Showtime, 2005.
Entertainment Tonight (also known as E.T.), syndicated, 2005, 2007.
In the Mix (also known as In the Cutz), Urban America, 2006.
Nurse, "And Baby Makes Three," 7th Heaven (also known as Seventh Heaven), The WB, 2006.
Gloria Gallant, "Strange Bedfellows," ER, NBC, 2006.
Gloria Gallant, "21 Guns," ER, NBC, 2006.
Also appeared in Search for Tomorrow; as herself, "Wild on Jamaica," Wild On.
Television Work; Specials:
Producer and director, "Secrets," Showtime Black Filmmaker Showcase, Showtime, 1999.
Television Director; Episodic:
"Single Black Female," The Parkers, UPN, 2001.
Faith, Reggae, Biltmore Theatre, New York City, 1980.
Deena Jones, Dreamgirls, Imperial Theatre, New York City, 1981.
Jill Undergrowth, Identical Twins from Baltimore, Tiffany Theatre, Los Angeles, 1987.
Muzzy van Hossmere, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Marquis Theatre, New York City, 2002.
Margo Channing, Applause, Freud Playhouse, Westwood, CA, 2005.
Divas: Simply Singing (benefit concerts), beginning 1991.
In the Evening, Sid Bernstein's New York Music Company, 1984.
Also recorded "Here Comes the Rain."
Coproducer, codirector, and host, Sheryl Lee Ralph's Beauty Basics, Lorimar Home Video, 1987.
Appeared in "Voices That Care."
The Hand I Fan With, 1997.
Race Card, 2000.
"Secrets," Showtime Black Filmmaker Showcase, Showtime, 1999.
(Coauthor) Sheryl Lee Ralph's Beauty Basics (instructional video), Lorimar Home Video, 1987.
Coauthor (with Ralph Farquhar) of the script Red Rum and Coke.
Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 18, Gale, 1998.
Black Enterprise, February, 2007, p. 148.
Ebony, March, 2003, p. 82.
Essence, December, 1993, p. 62.
Jet, August 22, 2005, p. 30.