Sheryl Lee Ralph is a diva with a cause

Written by | Ray Cornelius

Celebrated television and film star Sheryl Lee Ralph is returning to her Broadway roots this season as Jennifer Hudson’s mother in NBC’s series SMASH. The Tony-nominated actress, who starred as Deena Jones in the original stage version of Dreamgirls, joins the all-star cast including Jessie L. Martin, Leslie Odom, Jr., Debra Messing and Angelica Houston.

When Ralph is not stealing the spotlight, she is focused on her DIVA Foundation which promotes HIV/AIDS Awareness and prevention. Each year, the non-profit presents Divas Simply Singing, the longest consecutive running musical AIDS benefit concert in the country. The annual show raises money and awareness about HIV/AIDS while assisting AIDS organizations in Los Angeles and South Africa.

We caught up with the mother of two to talk about her new television role and her message of hope this National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

RC: Congratulations on your role as Jennifer Hudson’s mother, Veronica Moore on the NBC show “Smash” which aired Tuesday night.  What was it like working with her?

SLR: I loved working on Smash with Jennifer Hudson. She was an absolute doll. I walked into my dressing room and she had sent me some flowers. They were so huge I could hardly get in the room. Written on a note was “God we haven’t seen a black woman like this on TV since Dominique Devereaux.” Now that was a big compliment.

           Sheryl Lee Ralph with on screen daughter, Jennifer Hudson

RC: Did the show take you back to your days as a “Dreamgirl” of Broadway?

SLR: It’s an exhausting schedule. I was tired a lot! It’s very different kind of schedule. There were many moments when I just had to shut up and remember that you have to sing and talk next day.

RC: You have been a very vocal over the years about HIV-AIDS prevention and awareness. What are you hoping to accomplish in 2013 through your DIVAS Foundation?

SLR: I’d like to be able to raise well over half a million dollars this year for the DIVA Foundation as we continue doing ‘Divinely Inspired Victorious AIDS Awareness’ work. The DIVA Foundation simply dares to care. We don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk. We tell the truth. People are going to have sex, a lot of them are having unprotected sex and that’s what you have to be careful about. That is how negative people become positive.

RC: Are you still the national spokeswoman for the “Call My Name campaign?”

SLR: Yes, I am still the national spokesperson for the NAMES Project. I was amazed that the AIDS quilt is over 55 miles long and less than half a mile was dedicated to people of color.  We don’t want to call the names of our husbands, fathers, sisters, aunties and mothers and that is just unacceptable. We have to tell our own stories and call the names of those we love and have lost to HIV/AIDS.

Ralph servin up much attitude as ‘Veronica Moore’ on the set of  SMASH

RC: You also work with women in South Africa, who are infected and affected by the disease, what’s next for that initiative.

SLR: It’s a wonderful thing the Sister Circle, especially when you bring like-minded women together and talk. We must figure out ways to stem the tide of AIDS infection for all of our children.

RC: The numbers of infection amongst young, gay African-American males is on the rise again, what do you think needs to happen for this particular demographic to get the message about safe sex?

SLR: It hurts me so badly to see the rate of infection rise in young black men.  It’s awful to see that we will continue to lose generations of men. It’s necessary to develop messages that reach them and let them know, “look you are important, we love you, you’re in danger and we don’t want to lose you.”  I think it’s also important to remember that if sex is ever a problem for men than women will be next in line. It’s a natural connection, I don’t care who they say they’re sleeping with.

Catch Sheryl Lee Ralph in Smash on Tuesday, Feb. 19 at 9pm EST on NBC.