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Waterbury native Sheryl Lee Ralph steals the show at the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards

Sheryl Lee Ralph accepts Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for "Abbott Elementary" onstage during the 74th Primetime Emmys at Microsoft Theater on September 12, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.
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Sheryl Lee Ralph accepts the award for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series for "Abbott Elementary" onstage during the 74th Primetime Emmys at the Microsoft Theater on Sept. 12, 2022, in Los Angeles.

It was one of those moments that turn an awards show into something special. At the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards Show on Monday night, actress Sheryl Lee Ralph came to the podium to accept her Emmy for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series. Ralph won the award for her role as Barbara Howard in the ABC sitcom “Abbott Elementary.”

After a brief pause, the Waterbury native broke into a soulful, a cappella version of Dianne Reeves’ “Endangered Species” that brought the crowd to its feet.

The actress was born in Waterbury in 1956, and according to her bio, she attended both Driggs Elementary School and the old Notre Dame Academy before her family moved to Long Island. Ralph would go on to a lengthy career in movies, television and theater. Previous to her breakout role in “Abbott Elementary,” she was perhaps best known for her role as Moesha’s mother, Dee, in the sitcom “Moesha.” In 1981, Ralph was nominated for a Tony Award for her role in the original Broadway production of “Dreamgirls.”

While Ralph spent her early years in Connecticut, the family’s impact on the state lives on. Her father, Stanley, was a music teacher in Waterbury, and in the early 1960s, he wrote a cantata for B.W. Tinker Elementary School, “The Nutmeg, Homeland of Liberty.”

The cantata was a favorite of Waterbury elementary school children for years. In 2003, the state legislature voted to make Stanley Ralph’s work the official state cantata.

Ralph’s mother, Ivy, was a pioneer in Jamaica’s fashion industry. The Jamaican American created the Kareeba suit in the early 1970s, a two-piece suit for men intended for special occasions. For years, it was the suit of choice for Caribbean and African dignitaries, in part because the suit was worn without a shirt, making it more comfortable in tropical climates.

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Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series Where Art Thou? Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of Morning Edition, and later of All Things Considered.

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