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Sheryl Lee Ralph Is Ready for Her Super Bowl Moment — & She Knows Exactly What She Wants to Say to Rihanna

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Sheryl Lee Ralph is more than ready for her moment. It’s here, in the form of her historic Emmy win last September, when she took home the award for best supporting actress in a comedy series, becoming just the second Black woman in history to do so. It’s here, in the form of her recent Golden Globes nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical-Comedy or Drama Television Series, and the win that her series, Abbott Elementary, took home. And it’s here, as Sheryl Lee Ralph prepares to perform “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the Black National Anthem, at Super Bowl LVII.

Ralph is no stranger to entertainment industry accolades, having received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical in 1981 for her portrayal of Deena Jones in Dreamgirls. And while the road to sustained success and recognition has been a long one, Ralph’s vision and belief in herself has never wavered — a point that the 65-year-old made so eloquently in her now-viral Emmy Award speech. (In case you somehow missed it, she said in part: “To anyone who has ever — ever — had a dream, and thought your dream wasn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t come true, I am here to tell you that this is what believing looks like. This is what striving looks like. And don’t you ever, ever give up on you!”)

So yes, this time, this moment to shine — Ralph is here for all of it. Ahead of her NFL debut, the singer and actress, who is partnering with the sanitizing spray brand Microban 24, talked to SheKnows about the real inspirations behind her moving speech and what she wants to say to Rihanna at the Super Bowl.

SheKnows: First of all, belated congratulations on the Golden Globes win! When you think back to that night, what are some of the moments that have stayed with you? 

Sheryl Lee Ralph: Nothing will probably top that Emmy moment, but the Golden Globes… winning as a cast was just like, ‘Yes!’ For all of us to be up there together, and to win that Critics Choice award… oh, my God, all of this stuff is like every artist’s dream come true. And I am just thrilled and so happy that I’m getting to experience all of it. I’m literally, everything, everywhere, all at once; that’s my title right there!

SK: Your Emmys speech, of course, was, incredible, with your message of believing in yourself. Who and what in your life really inspired you to have such conviction in yourself?

SLR: It’s my parents, it’s my mother and father. I’m a child of the 60s and if you think things are rough now? Oh my God, to be a child and to see those terrible things happen, to see so many young children lose their parents to things like hate, discrimination, and racism. My parents were so wonderful at encouraging me through those times, letting me know that I could make it, that I had to carry on, that the things that we were doing, they were not just for us but they were [for the] children that would come behind us — which was hard to grasp at that time as a child, but I get it now.

SK: Let’s talk about Super Bowl LVII — you will be performing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” What are you most looking forward to about singing at the Super Bowl?

SLR: You know something? I love being center stage! It’s a beautiful place to be. The feeling that I get when I’m center stage now, the whole idea that I have two and a half minutes in front of two and a half million people? Oh my God. That just makes me so thrilled and so happy and I’m looking forward to it. Everybody asks, ‘What are you going to do when you see Rihanna?’ Hug her and thank her.

SK: We’re here talking today because of your partnership with Microban 24. What made you want to partner with this brand — and how do you feel about cleaning these days?!

SLR: Well, I have to tell you, as I flow and move through my life, these partnerships and relationships that are now coming to me, they have to be authentic. They have to be real because just like you can’t lie to the camera, you cannot lie to your audience. And I discovered Microban 24 as it was being launched, which just happened to be at the start of the pandemic. And once [I] realized that it was literally the thing you needed in your arsenal to battle the bacteria, we were buying it by the cans.

SK: Finally, can you give us any hints about what we can expect from the rest of Abbott Elementary?

SLR: You’re going to be getting much more of everything that you have loved coming to this show. We’re here for you. We’re going to continue to shine the good light on educators and what it is that they have brought to our lives, you know?

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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