As of 2007, 32.9 million people were living with HIV/AIDS (Stem Cell Blog). Actress, writer, producer and director Sheryl Lee Ralph has experienced the reality of the statistics. Her role as the original Deena Jones in “Dreamgirls” which opened in 1981 and earned her a nomination for a Tony Award, is what first taught her about AIDS and developed her passion for advocating for awareness. In fact, she is so passionate that she has spent the past 20 years of her life producing benefit shows. Her organization, Divas Simply Singing!, has filled the stages mostly in LA with celebrities like Fergie and Raven Symone, all singing to raise money for the disease. (divassimplysinging.com). It will celebrate its 20th anniversary on October 9th in Los Angeles.
Fortunately, there will be a special one night only benefit Cabaret in San Francisco on September 20, 2010, at 7:30 p.m. at the Marines Memorial Theater. Members from the current touring cast of “Dreamgirls,” Sheryl Lee Ralph, and others are all scheduled to perform. All the proceeds will be donated to The Richard/Ermet AIDS Foundation.
The Foghorn got a chance to interview her on the show and what motivates her to keep going. She proudly describes the event as, “Raising voices to raise AIDS awareness.” She explained that what really called her to advocate for AIDS awareness was all of her friends who were experiencing the tragic disease.
Ralph said, “A lot of people do not know that we lost one-third of the company of ‘Dreamgirls’ due to AIDS. People dropped dead of disease. I thought, ‘I can’t let my friends die like this.’”
From then on, Ralph became involved in awareness causes and began producing benefit concerts.
On her success in “Dreamgirls,” she proclaimed, “It was a rewarding opportunity. Every young artist should be awarded an opportunity like I had.”
Ralph’s success began when she was 21 and got the part of Deena Jones in “Dreamgirls” and nineteen when she graduated from Rutgers University. She has always been interested in the arts, but was going to be a doctor or lawyer. Until one day when she was “walking on a dead end street,” she saw sign-ups for a musical and never looked back. When asked what medium she likes best, without hesitation she remarked, “There’s nothing like the stage. It’s also amazing when you have actors bring your words to life.”
Although it is hard work organizing and performing at benefit concerts, she loves working with entertainers,“It’s always great to collaborate with artists. However, I always say, if your attitude is bigger then your hairstyle, stay at home.”
A bit of advice from someone who has seen show business from every angle, “always have a great monologue and song ready…Talent helps, and if you got it take care of it” said Ralph.
Although theater and music are her passions, she still remembers her purpose behind it all. “Everyone should get tested and be aware of the disease,” said Ralph who advises everyone to go to testtogether.org.