Monday, September 20, 2010

Sheryl Lee Ralph Headlines HIV/AIDS Benefit 09/20 By Shelah Moody

Not only is Sheryl Lee Ralph a triple threat—star of the Broadway stage, film and television--she is also a longtime activist who sits on the board of the National Minority AIDS Council and the Black AIDS Institute. 
On Monday, Sept. 20, the Tony nominated performer returns to San Francisco as part of the “One Night Only Cabaret" event featuring  cast members from the touring cast of the Broadway musical “Dreamgirls.” “One Night Only,” which will take place  at the Marines Memorial Theater, is  a benefit for the Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation
At the time of our phone interview, Ralph, who is married to Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent Hughes, was on her way to Washington, D.C. to attend a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation/Congressional Black Caucus Spouses event honoring Alice Walker and Robert Townsend. Later, she would moderate a panel for Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee on the plight of young black children.
Ralph’s one-woman show, “Sometimes I Cry,” which tells the story of real women living with HIV/AIDS has touched many lives. During the July 4th weekend, Ralph appeared at the 16th Essence Music Festival in New Orleans, speaking on HIV/AIDS prevention with actor Hill Harper and others.
Shelah Moody: Congratulations on being included in Essence magazine’s “40, Fierce an Fabulous” spread in their September issue. How does it feel?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: You know something, it feels quite special. It was an amazing luncheon; it was an amazing awards ceremony, to bring together such a diverse group of women from Valerie Jarrett to Naomi Campbell to me.  They chose 40 women who have changed the world in some way on an issue or a subject. Mine, of course was the issue of HIV and AIDS.
SM: How did you get involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS?
SLR: For me, it all started as an original company member of the Broadway cast of “Dreamgirls.” At that time, I saw so many of my friends die of stigma, shame and silence because they were suffering from a mysterious disease; a disease that at that time, had no name.  It was called the gay cancer or gay related immune deficiency disease. That’s really what started it for me. Little did I know that almost 30 years later, it would become a so completely a black women’s disease.
SM: On the panel at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans this summer, you said that HIV/AIDS is the number one killer of black women.
SLR: It’s terrible. We die first of all of these diseases. We die first of diabetes; we die first of breast cancer. We die first and often under the stigma, silence and shame when it comes to HIV and AIDS.
SM: On the Essence panel, you also said that HIV/AIDS was 100 percent preventable. What should black women know about preventing the spread of the disease?
SLR: They need to get tested. They need to know their status. If they don’t know where to go to get tested, they can visit You put in your zip code and a number of places will come up where you can get tested, many of them for free. The next thing they need to know is how to negotiate sex if they are going to have it. They’ve got to remember that the use of a condom is imperative for their health and well-being. No glove, no love.  
SM: Tell us about your annual AIDS benefit, Divas Simply Singing?
SLR: Diva stands for Divinely Inspired, Victoriously Anointed. I started the foundation 20 years ago in memory of the many friends that had lost. The 20th event is taking place October 9 in Los Angeles. We’ve got an incredible wealth of talented divas, coming to raise their voices in song and commitment, one voice at a time. We’ve got Teena Marie, Ledisi, Jodi Watley, Kelly Price, Loretta Devine, Jenifer Lewis—so many incredible artists.
SM: Speaking of great events, you are performing in San Francisco on Sept. 20 at “One Night Only Cabaret,” a benefit for the Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation. What can we expect?
SLR: You can expect one great song, absolutely. I love coming to the Bay Area and I’m looking forward to it.
SM: When you first starred the role of Deena Jones in “Dreamgirls” in 1981, did you have any idea that it would become a worldwide phenomenon?
SLR: I knew that it was going to be a big, big hit. I had no idea that we were certainly writing pages for ourselves in the books of theater.
SM: Being of Jamaican heritage, are you a fan of reggae music?
SLR: I remain classic to reggae. Reggae has changed a great deal, reggae has turned into dancehall just as R&B has pretty much gone the wayside and people are doing much more rap and all of that. Honestly, I have to stay true to classic Bob Marley.
Sheryl Lee Ralph performs at “One Night Only Cabaret,” a benefit for the Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation with special guests, Tim Hockenberry, Jason Brock, Syesha Mercado from “American Idol” 7:30 p.m., Monday, September 20, 7:30pm
Marines Memorial Theater, San Francisco. Info: 415-273-1620 or online at
"Dreamgirls" plays at the Curran Theatre through Sept. 26.
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