A week ago actress Sheryl Lee Ralph had a dream. In the dream there was rushing water and a deck of cards. On the face of the cards were the images of her co-stars from the breakout sitcom Abbott Elementary. As the water continued to flow the faces became clearer. Once she had awoken, Ralph sent a message to her castmates explaining that something good was in store.
At the time Ralph had no idea what that something good was, but on Tuesday morning she received the news that she had received her first Emmy nomination — Supporting Actress, Comedy.
"My mother was a dreaming woman, the great dreamer. I don't really know the meaning of dreams but once I woke up from that dream last week, I just knew it had to mean something. So I told the cast in my text message last week that my mother was sending me a message that blessings a come. And what a blessing it is," Ralph told the Jamaica Observer in a telephone interview.
This Emmy nomination is her first ever in her over 45 years in the industry, and Ralph admitted that the magnitude of the moment has not sunken in.
"At the beginning of my career at 19 years old I was right here in Jamaica with my mother when I got the call to star in my very first film [A Piece of the Action] with none other than Mr Sidney Poitier. At the time we were living in an apartment near the Terra Nova Hotel and I remember running into the street and shouting, 'I'm going to Hollywood'. Then as God would have it, I am right here in Jamaica again as the Emmy nomination is being announced. The Emmy is the pinnacle of television. I feel like Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. I have done the work over the years and all that's left is for me to go to the Olympics and bring home the gold medal," said Ralph.
In a reaction video posted on social media by her son, Ralph is seen on her cellphone receiving the news of her Emmy nomination. She repeatedly shouts "O my God," while fanning her face.
Abbott Elementary was created by and stars Quinta Brunson and follows the happenings at a fictional black school in Philadelphia. Ralph plays the role of teacher Barbara Howard. The series premièred on December 7, 2021, as a mid-season replacement and was met with critical acclaim. In March 2022, the series was renewed for a second season, which is set to première on September 21.
Ralph recalled being introduced to the project by Brunson and admitted that even though she fell in love with the script at first read, she had no idea that the show and her character would have taken off the way it has.
"Quinta called me and introduced me to the project. She was so respectful saying: 'I know at this stage of your career you don't really audition for roles, but I want to meet with the team'. She was just so sweet and considerate that I agreed. I read the script and it was great so I just decided to take on the role of Mrs Howard."
"I just thought I would be invisible. I had no idea this level of attention would come my way. There are all these memes that people have on social media. This is crazy. Yes, I have had the success with Dreamgirls on Broadway; I have had success with Moesha; I have had success with Sister Act 2, but this show and this role is definitely something special. The world has caught on. Its appeal is not just in the US, it all over the world because it is something everyone can relate to," Ralph said.
The 66-year-old Ralph was born in the United States to her Jamaican mother, fashion designer Ivy Ralph, and her father Stanley, a college professor. Her career which cover stage, film, television and music has seen her appearing in roles in To Sleep with Anger, The Mighty Quinn, The Distinguished Gentleman, and Deterrence. In 1981 she was nominated for a Tony Award for her role as Deena Jones in the stage production of Dreamgirls.
Ralph's co-stars Quinta Brunson, Janelle James and Tyler James Williams also received nominations for their work on the series. The show is also nominated for Best Comedy and for Writing for a comedy series. The 2022 Emmy Awards is set for Monday, September 12, on NBC, and while Ralph has not yet given any thought to what she will wear, one thing she knows for certain is who she will walk the red carpet with.
"I will definitely be walking that red carpet with my husband, Senator Vincent Hughes. My two children will have to get tickets and they must also be there with me, but my husband gets first dibs this time," she shared.