On September 12, Sheryl Lee Ralph became the second Black woman in history to win the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. She shared her moment with Dianne Reeves, a singer whose music greatly impacted her.
Reeves, 65, is behind “Endangered Species,” the inspiring song Ralph sang at the start of her acceptance speech. Along with Jeanne Pisano, Reeves co-wrote the song for her 1994 album Art & Survival.
Filled with joy, Reeves tells us she hasn’t slept since the Emmys aired.
“How does somebody, in the midst of their blessing, bless somebody else?,” she says to ESSENCE. “That is true sisterhood.”
Reeves has long known of Ralph’s support of the nearly 30-year-old song. Ralph would sometimes sing it during DIVAS Simply Singing!, her annual musical benefit for those affected by H.I.V. and AIDS. The Emmy winner’s ongoing respect for the track, and her decision to include it in her significant moment, struck a chord.
“I know how long this woman has been out there pouring into the community, she’s just an incredible human being,” Reeves says. “I see her around from time to time and she’s been singing this song for a long time. But to hear it in this moment, when she is receiving her flowers and still giving flowers, was amazing. I am just really blown away and all the love and support that people gave me throughout the night.”
Reeves is also enjoying another career high. She lent vocals to the music of The Woman King, which premieres in theaters on September 16.
“Terence Blanchard did the soundtrack and invited me to be a part of it,” she says. “He allowed me to take the scenes and just improvise throughout the film, which is something that I have never done. It was an extraordinary experience.” 2022 is clearly Reeves’ year.
Below, we spoke with Dianne Reeves about her reaction to Sheryl Lee Ralph’s acceptance speech, what she’d like to say to to the Emmy winner and what she wants new listeners to take away from the song.
Can you share the background of the song “Endangered Species?”
I did an album called in Art & Survival in 1994. At the time, I wasn’t really even sure where my career was going. The whole album is about my voice and having the opportunity to be unapologetic about the things that I was saying.
“Endangered Species” was one of the songs on the record. While the album didn’t gain large acceptance, a lot of people said it had helped their lives in a lot of ways.
What was your reaction to Sheryl Lee Ralph’s singing part of her acceptance speech at the Emmys?
I almost fell out because it took my breath away. In her speech, she talked about all of people who helped her in life. I was like, ‘You are in your moment and helping my life.’
Did she tell you why the song resonates with her so deeply?
Back in the day, she said just gave her power. The words gave her power and she would just sing it.
I’ve also seen dancers on So You Think You Can Dance use the music. I’ve seen ice skaters from Europe and people all over the world use it. It has been out there for a long time and people still feel empowered by the words of the song.
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Is there anything you want to say to Sheryl Lee Ralph right now?
First of all, congratulations. She has always been on her game and always given 100%.
It is so well deserved. She is showing what 65 looks like right now and it looks absolutely fine. We’re about the same age and the fact that she is still standing in her light and just really shining it to bless other people, not just me, but always in the community. The things that she feels passionate about are the things that she lifts up and gives light, energy and love to.
So for her whole journey, just congratulations. It’s only gonna get bigger from here.
“I hope that people find power in the words of the song and that it keeps echoing on.”
Can you also talk about the major moment you have in The Woman King?
There are several scenes in the film that they gave voice to. Terence Blanchard [who did the music for the film], I’ve known him for many, many years. When he was doing the film, he thought that I would be the perfect person to give voice to these emotions. When Gina Prince-Bythewood heard me, she put me on more of the movie.
I have never had a space this big to be able to express myself as a jazz singer.
For people who are just now finding out about the song “Endangered Species,” what do you want them to know?
I want them to know that it is my anthem.
I grew up in a space of many generations. In my household, everybody hums. Everybody always had their songs that would get them through. My grandmother and my mother, all of them. I wrote this song as my battle cry, to get through all of these things that happen in our lives. I hope that people find power in the words of the song and that it keeps echoing on.