Sheryl Lee Ralph poses in the press room after her...

Sheryl Lee Ralph poses in the press room after her win for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series for "Abbott Elementary" at the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards Monday in Los Angeles.  Credit: Invision / AP / Jae C. Hong

Sheryl Lee Ralph added to Hollywood history Monday when she became only the second Black winner of the comedy supporting actress Emmy Award. But she had been making Uniondale history decades earlier.

Ralph, 66 — whose long career includes a Tony nomination as the Diana Ross-like lead in Broadway's "Dreamgirls," and cast roles on series including "It's a Living," "Moesha" and her current ABC hit "Abbott Elementary" — had first tasted stardom with the 1972 Uniondale High School senior class production of the musical "Oklahoma!" Her late father, Stanley Ralph, a music teacher and eventually choral director at Roosevelt High School, recalled to Newsday in 1992 that his daughter's star turn as Ado Annie stopped the show.

While that might be taken simply as a proud father's boast, Uniondale High's current show-choir director, Lynnette Carr-Hicks, says she was long aware of that production — enough so that when her choir won a Grand Championship trophy at the FAME Choir National Competition regionals at Lincoln Center in 2012, she shot off an email to Ralph, deducing the star would take pride in Uniondale students.

"I emailed her," recalls Carr-Hicks, 53, of Westbury, speaking by phone Tuesday, "and within 15 or 20 minutes she said, 'I would love to come to Uniondale and speak to your students. I am so proud of them and all their accomplishments.' " On May 10, 2012, the star, said Carr-Hicks, "spoke to the students in the show choir and some of the other students about having been at Uniondale and doing ‘Oklahoma!' And the [show-choir] kids heard her [Emmy acceptance] speech today and that made them feel so good about themselves." 

Though born in Waterbury, Connecticut, the daughter of Stanley and Ivy Lewis Ralph, Sheryl Lee Ralph and her four siblings, including actor-comedian Michael Ralph, split their time between homes in Hempstead and the West Indies. Her father, who died in 2012, for a time was the principal of Wyandanch High School and did community theater, while her mother was a renowned Jamaica-based fashion designer who passed in 2018.

Sheryl Lee Ralph told Newsday's Verne Gay in 2019, "It was an incredible time in my life. I'm the child of an immigrant — my mother is Jamaican — so I was always back and forth, going from one island to another just about the same size."

After graduating from high school in 1972, Ralph went on to Rutgers University in New Jersey, originally as premed but changing her major to English literature and theater arts. She landed the lead in a campus play, won a 1974 Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship, and according to the Rutgers Alumni association "completed her degree requirements in only three years. She graduated [in 1975] near the top of her class at age 19, Rutgers' youngest female graduate at that time." 

Already performing professionally, including with the legendary New York theater group the Negro Ensemble Company, she debuted on-screen with director-star Sidney Poitier's 1977 crime comedy "A Piece of the Action." She has worked unrelentingly since, including in theater, appearing on Broadway as recently as a 2016-17 stint as Madame Morrible in the long-running musical "Wicked."

And she has returned to and remembers her roots on Long Island — adopting her Maltese rescue dog Zora from Little Shelter Animal Rescue & Adoption Center in Huntington in 2017.

Divorced from Eric Maurice, with whom she has children Etienne Maurice, 30, and Ivy Maurice, 27, she married Pennsylvania State Sen. Vincent J. Hughes in 2005. He accompanied her to the Emmys, where her children, in the balcony, cheered her win loudly enough to be heard on the stage — where Ralph memorably opened her acceptance speech by singing a passage from jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves' 1994 song "Endangered Species."

In a social-media video Monday night, Ralph added, "I want to thank all of you for all of your great wishes, for every kind thing you've said to me, for everybody who voted, for everybody who didn't vote, for everybody who's watching 'Abbot [Elementary].' … Thank you all, very much. Thank you." 

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