Sheryl Lee Ralph (born December 30, 1956) is an American actress, singer, and activist. She is best known for her role as Deidra “Dee” Mitchell on the UPN comedy Moesha (1996-2001). She also originated the role of Deena Jones in the Broadway musical Dreamgirls (1981).
Ralph was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, the daughter of Ivy, a fashion designer, and Stanley Ralph, a college professor. Her father was African-American and her mother Afro-Jamaican. According to a DNA analysis, she descends partly from the Tikar people of Cameroon. She was raised between Mandeville, Jamaica, and Long Island. Ralph attended Uniondale High School in Uniondale, NY. She starred in a high-school production of the musical Oklahoma!, portraying Ado Annie. Sheryl graduated in 1972. Earlier that year, she was crowned Miss Black Teen-age New York. At 19, Ralph was the youngest woman to ever graduate from Rutgers University; during her time at Rutgers, Ralph was one of the earliest winners of the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarships awarded by the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. Also that year she was named one of the top ten college women in America by Glamour magazine. Initially she hoped to study medicine, but after dealing with cadavers in a pre-med class and winning a scholarship in a competition at the American College Theater Festival, she gave up medicine for the performing arts. Many years later, she served as the commencement speaker at Rutgers for the Class of 2003.
Ralph is married to Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent Hughes. In June 2000, Ralph sued The National Enquirer for one million dollars over a piece they had written about her and her former husband Eric. In July 2004, Ralph was inducted as an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority at the 47th National Convention in Las Vegas, Nevada. In May 2008, Ralph was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Tougaloo College after giving the commencement address.