Raised between Mandeville, Jamaica, and Long Island, New York, half-Jamaican Sheryl Lee Ralph was born on December 30, 1956. In 1973, she was crowned Miss Black Teen-age New York. At 19, Ralph was the youngest female to ever graduate from Rutgers University. Also that year she was named as one of the top 10 college women in America by Glamour magazine. Initially she hoped to study medicine, but after dealing with cadavers in a premed class, she quit medicine for the performing arts. Many years later, she served as the commencement speaker at Rutgers for the Class of 2003. Ralph is married to Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent Hughes. Ralph began her career on the stage and was nominated in 1982 for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Deena Jones in Dreamgirls.
Her first film leading role came as Denzel Washington’s wife in The Mighty Quinn. In 1992, she starred as Robert De Niro’s mistress in Mistress. During the ’90s she also had roles in The Flintstones, Deterrence and Unconditional Love. On television, she is known for playing Etienne Toussaint-Bouvier on Designing Women and later Dee Mitchell on Moesha and the supervillainous Cheetah in Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. Ralph produced Divas Simply Singing, which has become an important AIDS fundraiser. In June 2000, Ralph sued the National Enquirer for one million dollars over a piece they had written about her and her husband. She was also voted one of TV’s Favorite Moms for her portrayal of step mom Dee on the number-one rated television series Moesha. She broke new ground In the SHOWTIME series, Barbershop, as the popular, post-operative transsexual, Claire. Recently, Sheryl brought a new face to the sufferings of war in the NBC hit series ER. Ralph’s latest project, Baby of the Family is due out later this year.
The story concerns a young child who is born with a caul over her head, enabling her to see ghosts and the future. Ralph was also recently featured with son Etienne on MTV’s My Super Sweet 16 and BET’s Baldwin Hills (TV series), as well as an episode of Clean House that also featured her two children, Etienne and Ivy-Victoria aka “Coco” (named after Ralph’s mother). In July 2004, Ralph was inducted as an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. at the 47th National Convention in Las Vegas, Nevada. In May 2008, Ralph was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Tougaloo College after giving the commencement address. On June 16, 2009 it was announced that Ralph would join the cast of the Broadway-bound musical The First Wives Club as Elyse. She replaced Adriane Lenox, who withdrew from the show due to health concerns.