Why Sheryl Lee Ralph’s Emmy Win Was “Truly a Full-Circle Moment”
When Sheryl Lee Ralph took the Emmy stage last week for a standing ovation, it was a long time coming. In fact, some in the entertainment industry believe that Ralph has been waiting more than three decades for an award of this caliber.
Ralph, who won the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, attracted legions of fans for playing Philadelphia schoolteacher Barbara Johnson in the ABC hit Abbott Elementary School. It was Ralph’s first Emmy win, although the actor has given fans an illustrious list of credits since the 1970s. Over the years, she has won and been nominated for a number of awards from prestigious interpretation, although none are as poignant as this Emmy.
Sheryl Lee Ralph is just the second black woman to win an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy
Like Johnson in Abbott Elementary School, the pragmatic educator who has seen it all reluctantly takes young teacher Janine Teagues (Quinta Brunson) under her wing. She passes on her wisdom from decades of kindergarten teaching, though whether Janine follows that wisdom depends on the episode.
Ralph came Abbott with a whole curriculum vitae behind her: she played in Moesha, It’s a lifeand instant mom, among a myriad of other film and TV credits. She won an Independent Spirit Award for her role in the 1990 film sleep with angerand was nominated for a Tony Award for her role in the Broadway version of dream girls.
Ralph is only the second black woman to win the golden Emmy statuette for supporting actress in a comedy category, and the first to do so in 35 years. Jackée Harry was the first to do so in 1987 for playing Sandra Clark in 227. In the first half of his acceptance speech, Ralph delivered the lyrics to Dianne Reeves’ “Endangered Species,” perhaps the most memorable moment of the entire evening.
“I’m an endangered species, but I don’t sing any victim songs,” Ralph sang in a clear, loud voice. “I’m a woman, I’m an artist, and I know where my voice belongs / I know where my soul belongs, I know where my soul belongs.”
Jackée Harry congratulated Ralph on Facebook
Ralph claimed victory at the recent Emmys, but could have cried foul for missing out on a precedent — had she believed in singing the Victims’ songs. As Jackée Harry recounted in a Facebook post, network executives originally wanted to cast Ralph in 227 like Sandra Clark. However, Harry eventually got the part and the Emmy for his portrayal. “Now Sheryl joins me as the 2nd black woman in this category and rightly so! I’m so excited [sic] for winning the Emmys!
Harry said winning his Emmy was a highlight of his career, but admitted it was a “lonely” existence. “But everything changes tonight… and the circle is complete!” she wrote. She went on to praise Ralph’s work on Abbott Elementary School. “Sheryl has had a remarkable career AND she’s one of the nicest people in Hollywood. Barbara Howard on Abbott Elementary School is another fabulous character that we were lucky enough to see her breathe life into.
In the comments, Ralph thanked Harry for his praise. “Jackee, thank you Queen!” This moment means so much. I am so proud to join you! she wrote. “It’s funny how life gets us where we need to be and in so many interesting ways! Truly a full loop moment! Wow!!!”
Ralph Says Barbara Johnson’s Role in ‘Abbott Elementary’ Is ‘An Incredible Gift’
This fall, Ralph will reprise his role as Barbara in Abbottthe second season of. We’ll likely see more side eyes and maybe a musical moment or two as she continues to hone her role as Abbott’s seasoned teacher.
ABC picked up the series for a full run of 22 episodes, a big jump from the first 13 episodes of its first season. In the role, Ralph said she wanted to continue delivering her lines in a way that made her approachable on screen. “…So many teachers, oh my god, the way they reacted to the character. They say they feel seen. They feel respected,” Ralph told Variety.
Barbara is definitely not Ralph Personified: The veteran teacher has a prescribed short hairstyle, a penchant for sweater ensembles, and is the literal bead-grabbing type. However, Ralph said she couldn’t be more thrilled with the role. “Barbara Howard has been an incredible gift to me,” she said.
Abbott Elementary School returns to ABC on Wednesday, September 21 at 9 p.m. EST.