In the most memorable speech of Monday night’s 74th Emmy Awards, Sheryl Lee Ralph broke into song after winning the Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series award for her role in Abbott Elementary.
Ralph picked up her Emmy statuette from presenters Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers, then stood silently on stage as she received a standing ovation from her peers inside the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.
The veteran actress then began to cry and instead of giving a traditional acceptance speech, the Dreamgirl belted out the 1993 song “Endangered Species” by jazz singer Dianne Reeves.
“I am an endangered species/ But I sing no victim’s song/ I am a woman / I am an artist/ And I know where my voice belongs,” Ralph sang.
— Jarett Wieselman (@JarettSays) September 13, 2022
Moments later, she urged others to never give up on their dreams.
“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,” she said.
Backstage, Ralph explained why she sang part of her acceptance speech.
“I’ve been singing that song for years because I think of myself as an artist, as a woman, and especially as a woman of color, I’m an endangered species. I don’t sing any victim song. I’m a woman. I’m an artist, and I know where my voice belongs,” she said.
“There are so many young actors, artists, even kids that think they know what they’re going to do in life. Find your voice and put it where it belongs,” she added.
Ralph got her big break in 1981 as Deena Jones in the Broadway musical “Dreamgirls,” earning a Tony nomination for the role. Since then, she’s had parts on the TV series Moesha, Ray Donovan, and Claws, as well as the films Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit and The Flintstones.
Monday’s win marked Ralph’s first Emmy. Watch her comments from backstage below.