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ESSENCE Spoke With Sheryl Lee Ralph Ahead of Her Historic Emmy Win

“It’s winning season. All of these young actresses I’m in this category with, we've already won, and life has changed in so many ways for us all in just a few weeks. I'm loving it.”

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Veteran Sheryl Lee Ralph is no stranger to the spotlight and our television screens. The legendary actress, singer, author, activist, favorite sitcom mom, and original Dreamgirl has been shining in the entertainment industry for four decades. However, it wasn’t until she starred in ABC’s freshman sitcom ‘Abbott Elementary’, that she won her first Emmy for her flawless portrayal of Barbara Howard, a stern but kind, experienced kindergarten teacher. 

Although Ralph has made an indelible mark on television, film, and Broadway for 45 years, she’s just now receiving well-deserved recognition – proving that hard work, consistency, and dedication will always lead to lasting success. 

There’s nothing like having your peers tell you that you are one of the best. Especially in a time and a season like this where there’s so much amazing, great television, and to be on a freshman network comedy and break through the way that ‘Abbott Elementary’ is a super feat. And I’m happy to be a part of the accomplishment,” she says to ESSENCE.

During her acceptance speech, Ralph broke into song, belting Dianne Reeves’ “Endangered Species:” “I am a woman, I am an artist, and I know where my voice belongs,” earning a standing ovation as she thanked Abbott Elementary creator and co-star Quinta Brunson, and husband and kids. She made a note to dedicate part of her speech to anyone who’s ever had a dream and said, “I am here to tell you that this is what believing looks like, this is what striving looks like. Don’t ever give up on you.”

Before the Emmys, ESSENCE met with the star at the posh Figueroa Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles to catch up with the first-time Emmy winner in her hotel room. As we entered the room, we saw Ralph surrounded by her attentive glam squad, getting her face polished, nails done, and hair bejeweled. She’s poised, cool, calm, and collected, even hours away from her first Emmy appearance. Department head of hair for ‘Abbott Elementary,’ Moira Frazier, and Ralph’s daughter Coco teamed up to curate her stunning Emmys hairstyle. Both Frazier and hair assistant Christina Joseph worked to create a ‘starry night’ look, appropriate as Ralph was truly the star of the night and shined bright as a diamond. 

“It was important to have natural hair. I’ve had this dream about a wig slipping off. And I was just like, You know what, since I have hair, let’s go natural. Bling is my favorite color. And the dress has to support me as an actress,” she says.  

Ralph was inspired by effortless and timeless glamour, for her gown as she believes style should be evergreen.  “I like that when I look at my closet, there are some things that I have from 10, 15, and 20 years ago that, if I put them on right now, they’d still be creating a style of their own,” she says. 

Ralph was adamant about making sure she didn’t look like anybody else in my cast. Styled by her daughter, Coco Ivy, in collaboration with Brandon Blackwood, for the brand’s first-ever gown, they created a sleek and classic custom duchess satin gown with a slit with a pop of orange color and a matching tote. Ralph shared with ESSENCE that her favorite element of the look was the accent color. 

Her tips for ESSENCE readers to establish an Emmys glow? Simply put in the work to shine inside and out. “Put in the work, darlings, do the work. You know, make an effort to be your best artist. Be open to the will of God and goddess, and know that all things come in time. But it’s really up to you to do the work. Many people don’t do the work; they think I’ll just roll out of bed. But you know what, that might be good enough. But as my immigrant mother would say, Good, better best, never let it rest until your good is better, and you’re better, best,” she says.