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Sheryl Lee Ralph, 63, pops up on Zoom wearing a bejeweled headband and a bright smile.
You probably know her from her star turn in Broadway's Dreamgirls, her six-season run on Moesha, and her recent roles on Ray Donovan and Claws. But she's been equally busy as an activist, whose West Hollywood-based Diva Foundation has been raising money to help people with HIV and AIDS.
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This December marks the 30th anniversary of her benefit, Divas Simply Singing! Since 1990 it has provided acceptance and support to people with HIV and AIDS and those who love them.
You've extended your annual Diva Foundation benefit from one night to a full week of programming and a Dec. 5 concert.
Yes, this pandemic gave me time to pause, pivot and plan, and I did what I've always done. I picked up the phone and called people, and if I couldn't get them, I called them again.
With so many artists on lockdown, more were available and could contribute from where they are. The depth of the generosity has been amazing as is the quality of the talent: Leslie Odom Jr., Brian Stokes Mitchell, Stephanie Mills, Lalah Hathaway. … We're honoring Patti LaBelle and Sharon Stone.
[On Dec. 1, World AIDS Day, Ralph is leading an 8 to 9 p.m. ET town hall, sponsored by AARP, about aging, HIV and the LGBTQ community.]
Did the pandemic coming out of nowhere this year remind you in any way of the beginning of the AIDS crisis in the ‘80s?
There are so many correlations. Some people's initial reaction to both was: “This has nothing to do with me. It's those people.” There is the difficulty of getting people to wear masks, which was akin to the difficulty of getting people to wear condoms — both proven barriers to a virus.
I remember working in the New York arts scene back then, and people started dying around us.
Yes! On Dec. 20, 1981, I made my debut in Dreamgirls, the biggest hit on Broadway. I was in the midst of the greatest time of my life, but friends up and down Broadway, and in our show, too, started getting sick and not showing up.