Sheryl Lee Ralph Earns Standing Ovation as She Sings in Emotional Emmys Acceptance Speech

Sheryl Lee Ralph took home the Emmy for best supporting actress in a comedy series at the ceremony on Sept. 12, and the legendary actor brought the house down with her emotional acceptance speech. When the award was first announced, Ralph stayed in her seat for a moment, shocked. When she eventually took the stage — helped by her castmates — she started to sing the song "Endangered Species" by Dianne Reeves. "I am an endangered species," she sang loudly and proudly. "But I sing no victim's song. I am a woman, I am an artist. And I know where my voice belongs."

Ralph then spoke, saying, "To anyone who has ever, ever had a dream and thought that 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." Tearing up, she continued, "Because if you get a Quinta Brunson in your corner, if you get a husband like mine in my corner, if you get children like mine in my corner, and if you've got friends like everybody who voted for me, cheered for me, loved me, thank you, thank you, thank you!" The room gave her a roaring standing ovation.

In addition to those celebrating Ralph in the room were those honoring the win online — including actor Jackée Harry, the last Black woman to win in the category. Harry tweeted, "Winning my Emmy was a career highlight, but it was also a lonely experience. For 35 years I've been the only black woman to win Outstanding Supporting Actresses in a Comedy Series. But that all changes tonight… and it's come full circle! #Emmys."

Speaking to reporters in the press room on Monday night, Ralph said she has "been singing that song for years." She explained of her epic speech, "I think of myself as an artist, as a woman — especially as a woman of color — I'm an endangered species. But I don't sing any victim songs. I'm a woman and an artist and I know where my voice belongs. And 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."

Ralph, who plays Barbara Howard on "Abbott Elementary," had her first major role in the 1977 film "A Piece of the Action." In 1981, she originated the role of Deena Jones in "Dreamgirls" on Broadway. She has been a staple of film and television ever since. This is her first Emmy win.

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When Emmy nominations were announced in July, Ralph's son Etienne Maurice shared a video on Twitter of her reacting to the news. He wrote along with it, "With over 50 years of being in this thing we call showbusiness, today my mother became an Emmy nominated actress. I'm so proud of @thesherylralph. I'm so glad I could be here in Jamaica with you for this moment."

"Abbott Elementary" scored seven Emmy nominations for its first season, including one for outstanding comedy series. In addition to Ralph's win, they took home awards for outstanding casting for a comedy series and outstanding writing for a comedy series, which was for the show's pilot, written by Brunson. Season two of the breakout sitcom premieres Sept. 21.

— Additional reporting by Eden Arielle Gordon