Jamerican redefines diva in memoir

Book cover of “Redefining Diva” by Sheryl Lee Ralph.
Photo courtesy of Gallery Books
Photo courtesy of Gallery Books

Actress/singer Sheryl Lee Ralph has added author to her illustrious identifying status.

The Jamaica-born wife of Pennsylvania Senator Vincent Hughes and mother to Etienne and Coco –identifies herself as Jamerican — recently celebrated publication of her first book “Redefining Diva.” Published by Karen Hunter’s Gallery Books, the 16-chapter, 200-page “life lessons from the original Dreamgirl” presents a first-person description of the abused adjective often used to identify a self-indulgent, egotistic personality.

Ralph steps away from the popular usage to claim what she perceives her best moniker.

Divinely Inspired Victoriously Anointed…Definitely Inspirational and Vivaciously Alive…Daringly Inquisitive and Valiantly Aware – are some of the acronyms she has configured to explain her re-definition.

“I am the ultimate diva,” she declares in the first chapter.

“Diva is more than big hair and an even bigger, badder attitude for me.”

Those defined by those standards she says, “gives diva – a bad name.”

“My kind of diva has a voice and uses it to speak her mind, understanding that inner thoughts don’t always need to be outer thoughts. She loves herself. She believes in herself enough to respect herself. But disrespects herself and others by pitching hissy fits, fighting, cursing and throwing things at people. …she gets what she wants because people want to give it to her… and demands respect by respecting herself and others.”

Ralph indulges readers by making reference to the origination of the term used to identify a Prima Donna two centuries ago in operatic circles.

She uses her adolescent and adult experiences in the USA to amplify arguments of a redefinition of the term and her claim to the title.

Ralph harkens back to schooldays when she was discriminated against at a parochial school.

How she defied the odds to win auditions and command roles in movies and onstage.

Her most coveted she claims were to join the cast of Sidney Poitier’s film “A Piece of the Action” and Broadway’s “Dreamgirls.”

The latter seems the pivotal, theatrical launch to a career that has broadened her range encompassing stints on television, fundraising campaigns and high profile visibility.

While the Great White Way afforded Ralph notoriety to a segment of the society, “Moesha” a television show starring R&B singer Brandy may have enhanced a national profile affording her visibility to a wider and younger demographic to many whom might not have heard of the musical.

On Broadway, she joined Jennifer Holiday and Loretta Devine to mimic a trio of singers often described akin to Motown Records triumvirate Supremes.

Ralph portrayed Deena, the character Beyonce revised in a film of the same name and the one most similar to the lead singer of the popular and most successful girl group of the sixties.

That the character resembled Diana Ross seemed an impediment to a future friendship, Ralph says. Ralph places emphasis on the fact Ross might have resented her for the focus, spotlight or role. Although she takes care in explaining how she had always “adored’ “admired” the acclaimed ‘Boss,’ Ralph seems to revel in gaining redemption three decades later when Ross met face to face with disapproving Jamaicans attending the Air Jamaica Jazz & Blues Festival on her home turf.

Ross had snubbed her on occasion and according to the author had heard that the super-star singer/actress had spoken unfavorably of her “rip-off’ portrayal of her life-story.

When angry patrons to the fest booed and hissed Ross’ decision not to perform if video screens were used during her performance, Ralph said she tried to defuse the ugly response.

The two met again at the airport in a VIP lounge and there she said, a cordial exchange settled the score.

Ralph insists the musical was not about the famous Detroit group.

She contends she created the role and was responsible for much of the words spoken throughout the production.

Ralph also explains the rift that made her walk away from the hit television show, “Moesha.”

Ralph’s tome provides an enlightening view of the immigrant personality who won a Tony Award early in her career.

She successfully maneuvered the field to secure positive roles co-starring with Denzel Washington, Robert DeNiro, Sherman Helmsley, Bill Cosby, Lynda Carter, Danny Glover and Phillip Michael Thomas among others.

In 1990 she founded the Diva foundation, a non-profit organization which attempts to raise the awareness of AIDS/HIV. That same year she created the Divas Simply Singing annual fundraising concert. She thanks Janet Jackson for writing the first check to launch the effort.

Ralph also founded the Jamerican Film Festival in the second city of Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Although she has encountered many obstacles she seems to radiate a positive attitude and hopes to inspire youth to pursue the essence of their best.

The 55-year-old has achieved acclaim from her peers and continues to be an example to aspiring thespians.

The book presents some of the obstacles, the challenges and the winning rewards of “divahood” as defined by an individual whose life lessons could provide a roadmap to happiness and success, regardless of profession or gender.

Catch You On The Inside!

More from Around NYC