Sheryl Lee Ralph
Sheryl Lee Ralph
as Barbara Howard

Actor Biography

From bringing characters to life on screen, performing on Broadway, producing, landing the title of national bestselling author with her literary debut and her deep-rooted philanthropic endeavors which touch lives across the world, Tony® Award nominee, NAACP Image Award nominee and Independent Spirit Award winner Sheryl Lee Ralph has become a staple in the entertainment industry with an acclaimed career spanning over three decades. Ralph can next be seen as Barbara starring on ABC's highly anticipated comedy series "Abbott Elementary" opposite Quinta Brunson. In this laugh-out-loud workplace comedy, "Abbott Elementary" follows a group of teachers brought together in a Philadelphia public school simply because they love teaching. They rely on one another to make it through the day and find a way to counteract the school district's indifferent attitude toward educating children. Ralph shines as Barbara, a longtime and respected teacher. "Abbott Elementary" is set to premiere January 2022.

In film, Ralph will reprise her scene-stealing role as Claudette opposite Jon Voight and Leiv Schreiber in Showtime's upcoming feature "Ray Donovan" (2022). The critically acclaimed, award-winning series ran from 2013-2020, and the film will pick up where season seven left off. Additional credits for Ralph include starring in over 100 episodes of "Moesha" opposite GRAMMY® Award winner Brandy, a lead role opposite Tia Mowry in three seasons of Nickelodeon's hit series "Instant Mom," and appearances on "Barbershop," "ER," "It's a Living," "New Attitude," "George," "Designing Women," "Two Broke Girls," "Smash," "Criminal Minds," "MacGyver," "One Mississippi" and "Claws." Ralph is currently recurring as President Kelly Wade on Freeform's supernatural drama series "Motherland."

On the big screen, Ralph has worked with some of Hollywood's leading and award-winning men with credits that include "The Mighty Quinn" opposite Denzel Washington, "Mistress" with Robert de Niro, "To Sleep with Anger" with Danny Glover and "The Distinguished Gentlemen" with Eddie Murphy. She also appeared opposite Whoopi Goldberg in "Sister Act II." Ralph picked up a win for Best Supporting Actress at the Independent Spirit Awards for her performance in "To Sleep with Anger."

Finding success in writing and directing, Ralph's award-winning short film "Secrets," co-starring award-winning actress Alfre Woodard and Robin Givens, was a finalist in the HBO Film Short Competition, Showtime's Filmmaker Award Series and the BET Filmmaker Award Competition. The film was also selected as the audience favorite at the Outfest Film Festival. "Secrets" was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, as well as the Hollywood Film Festival, the Acapulco Film Festival and the Urban World Film Festival. Ralph is also the creator of the Jamerican Film and Music Festival. Most recently, Ralph completed four back-to-back movies: "Just Getting Started" opposite Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones and Rene Russo; "Christmas at Holly Lodge" for Hallmark; Netflix's "Step Sisters" with Naturi Naughton and produced by Lena Waithe; and "No Sleep Til Christmas" for Freeform.

In theater, Ralph is well known for her award-winning work, creating the role of Deena Jones in the legendary Broadway musical "Dreamgirls," which earned her Best Actress nods for Tony and Drama Desk Awards. Ralph most recently appeared on Broadway as Madame Horrible in "Wicked," becoming the first African American actress to take on the classic role. She also holds the title of producer on Broadway's "Thoughts of a Colored Man" at The John Golden Theatre (October 2021-March 2022). Additional Broadway credits include the Tony Award-winning musical "Thoroughly Modern Millie," and reuniting with Loretta Devine and Jennifer Holliday for a sold-out, one-night-only "Dreamgirls" reunion celebrating the 35th anniversary.

As a writer, Ralph's debut book, "Redefining Diva: Life Lessons from the Original Dreamgirl" (Simon & Schuster), instantly became a national bestselling title and gave readers a personal look into her triumphs and tribulations over the years, navigating life with courage, wit and strength.

While working in front of the camera keeps Ralph busy, she is also a passionate health advocate and honored AIDS activist. She is the founding director of the DIVA (Divinely Inspired Victoriously Anointed) Foundation 501(C)3 which she created in memory of the many friends she had lost to HIV/AIDS. She also created the critically acclaimed Divas Simply Singing!, an evening of song and entertainment that is the longest consecutive running musical AIDS benefit in the country. Ralph was awarded the first Red Ribbon Award at the UN for her unique use of the arts in HIV/AIDS activism and was recently appointed as an AIDS Ambassador for Jamaica's Ministry of Health. Ralph is a mother of two with a blended family of four, and loves every moment of motherhood and marriage. She is happily married to State Senator Vincent Hughes of Pennsylvania.