Sheryl Lee Ralph’s Emotional, Musical Emmys Acceptance Speech For ‘Abbott Elementary’ Got A Lot Of Love

Awards shows are always militant about keeping acceptance speeches short, but this year’s Emmys seemed more aggressive than usual. They played off Matthew Macfadyen, who won for Succession. Jennifer Garner, winning for Ozark, was so scared they’d do the same to her that she almost ran off. Jennifer Coolidge tried — and failed — to keep going after the band cut her off, even turning it into a dance. Then there’s Sheryl Lee Ralph.

The seasoned actress, who was in the original cast of Dreamgirls and has been in shows like It’s a Living and Moesha, won her first-ever Emmy for Abbott Elementary, where she plays the religious kindergarten teacher Barbara. (She’s one of a number of cast members who got nominations.) When presenters Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers called out her name, Ralph seemed shellshocked. She even sat in her seat, taking it all in, clearly emotional, before slowly making her way to the stage.

When she got there, she didn’t do a normal speech. Instead, she belted out a song: “Endangered Species,” the 1993 song by Dianne Reeves, whose lyrics include, “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 was not played off. In fact, she went on: “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. 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, thank you.”

Videos of the “speech” went viral, earning tens of thousands of likes. You can watch it above. You can listen to Dianne Reeves’ “Endangered Species” below.