Sheryl Lee Ralph grew up immersed in the arts. Her father was a musician, her mother a fashion designer.
In a recent interview on NPR, she talked about how crucial that exposure was to her development.
“There was always song and dance and entertainment around us,” she said on The Takeaway.
In her opinion, children who don’t have access to the arts are missing something.
“When you don’t give children the arts, even if they’re not going to pursue the arts, I don’t think you give their brain everything it really needs,” she said.
Ralph was on the radio to promote her new ABC series Abbott Elementary, in which she plays a no-nonsense veteran teacher in a poor Philadelphia school.
She said the program is not only entertaining, it is crucial to the nation’s conversation about education. If people are shocked by the things they see on the show, from outdated textbooks to mold in the water fountains, then perhaps they will be motivated to act, she said.
From Broadway to the big screen
Ralph got her break on Broadway as one of the original cast members of the show Dreamgirls. She has also appeared on the big screen in more than 50 feature films and in TV series such as Moesha, It’s a Living, and Criminal Minds.
The Tony-award nominated performer has also made several movies for Hallmark, including Christmas at Holly Lodge, Christmas Comes Twice, and Christmas in my Heart.
In an interview with The Grio, she talked about how important representation can be.
“I had a conversation about how wonderful it would be if these heartwarming Christmas movies were more inclusive of all kinds of people that are the gods and goddesses children in our world,” she said in the interview. “It’s been a wonderful change to see more and more people of color, different sorts of marriages, young and old, all coming together and especially the color Black, which sometimes is very hard for people to see.”
In 2021’s Christmas in my Heart, Ralph asked Hallmark to add a scene to the script. The movie follows a father who is still grieving the death of his wife. His daughter is a talented violinist, and he hires a concert violinist to act as her tutor. Both the tutor and the little girl are biracial.
Ralph played the girl’s grandmother. In one scene, the girl (played by Maria Nash) says she needs to have her hair straightened for an upcoming performance so she can look “professional.” Her grandmother tells her that her hair looks perfect natural, in braids, or any way she chooses to wear it.
Ralph was approached by writer and actress Quinta Brunson to play kindergarten teacher Barbara Howard in her series Abbott Elementary. In an interview with Monsters & Critics, Ralph said she had her eye on the part of the principal.
“..Quinta said, ‘Nope, you are Mrs. Howard. We need a queen for that role and that’s you.’ I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this girl is just melting my heart,’” she said.
Abbott Elementary airs on ABC on Tuesdays at 9/8c.