Who is 'Black national anthem’ singer Sheryl Lee Ralph?
If the Super Bowl is your introduction to national treasure Sheryl Lee Ralph, welcome. The veteran singer-actress is set to take the Super Bowl stage Sunday to perform what is known as the Black national anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing." She's joined by country singer Chris Stapleton singing the national anthem and R&B star Babyface performing "American the Beautiful."
"Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would be singing at the Super Bowl," said Ralph at a press conference ahead of the big day. She made her allegiances known by carrying an Eagles purse. To Ralph, the Super Bowl is all about "good food, great friends, and a great game."
Her career-defining Super Bowl performance comes after years in the entertainment industry. Her breakout role was in the original production of Dreamgirls on Broadway in 1982. She starred as Deena Jones — the same role Beyoncé played years later — and was nominated for a Tony award for Best Actress in a Musical for her portrayal. But even before Dreamgirls, Ralph was making a name for herself in the late '70s appearing on TV shows such as Good Times and The Jeffersons.
Currently, Ralph stars as Barbara, a hilarious and dignified Kindergarten teacher, in the charming comedy series, Abbott Elementary. She recently won an Emmy for her role, becoming the first Black woman to win an Emmy for Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series since 1987. And in her acceptance speech she gave the audience a taste of her vocal talent by singing Dianne Reeve's "Endangered Species." She went on to say, "Anyone who has ever, ever had a dream and thought your dream... 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."
In the years between Dreamgirls and Abbott Elementary Ralph stayed busy. In 1984 she released her debut album In the Evening, which is pure '80s R&B fun (and I suspect you may be streaming it post-Super Bowl). Last year she followed-up with a Christmas album, Sleigh. In the late '90s Ralph also starred as the titular character's step-mom, Dee, in the television series Moesha.
Aside from singing and acting, Ralph also founded The DIVA Foundation in 1990 memory of the friends and colleagues she lost to the HIV/AIDS epidemic when she was in Dreamgirls on Broadway. For the past 32 years the foundation has hosted DIVAS Simply Singing! Raising Health Awareness, a living memorial and fundraiser.
May 2023 continue to be Ralph's year!