The 74th annual Emmy Awards handed out a number of historic wins during its ceremony on Monday night, from Zendaya’s second win for best actress to both prestigious titles for the star and director of “Squid Game.”
Another first came as Sheryl Lee Ralph received the evening’s award for supporting actress in a comedy series, owing to her performance in Quinta Brunson’s widely acclaimed sitcom “Abbott Elementary.” Brunson, who also made Emmys history with her trio of nominations this year, took home the award for outstanding writing in a comedy show.
Ralph, 66, has for decades received praise for her work on Broadway and earned a Tony Award nomination in 1981 for her lead role in the original production of “Dreamgirls.” She won Monday’s supporting actress award after never having been nominated before at the Emmys, and her triumph in that category marked the second time a Black woman actor received the accolade. Jackée Harry won the award in 1987.
But while Ralph’s win was momentous in and of itself, it was not her only memorable contribution to the awards ceremony. Alongside a moving acceptance speech, the “Moesha” star delivered an unexpected a cappella rendition of Dianne Reeves’ song “Endangered Species,” and received an enthusiastic standing ovation.
“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 from the stage, in a performance that has already been lauded by many as at least one of the greatest moments in the history of the Emmys.
“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,” Ralph said in the acceptance speech, where she named also credited Brunson, her husband and kids.
“And don’t you ever, ever give up on you, because if you get a Quinta Brunson in your corner, if you get a husband like mine in your corner, if you get children like mine in your corner, and if you’ve got friends like everybody who voted for me, cheered for me, loved me. Thank you! Thank you!” she told the audience.
Backstage after the show, Ralph explained why she chose to sing “Endangered Species,” from Reeves’ 1994 album “Art & Survival.”
“I’ve been singing that song for years because I think of myself as an artist. As a woman, especially as a woman of color, I’m an endangered species,” she said. “But I don’t sing any victim song. I’m a woman. I’m an artist, and I know where my voice belongs.”