There have been few champions of AIDS advocacy more vocal than actress, singer and activist, Sheryl Lee Ralph. Her star-studded “DIVAS Simply Singing!” signature AIDS benefit concert celebrated its 27th year last week here in Los Angeles. The event was held at the Taglyan Cultural Center and hosted by comedian Rolanda Watts.
The 27th “Divas Simply Singing Charity” dinner and concert honored the helping hand-work of Project Angel Food, whose mission is to feed and nourish the sick as they battle critical illnesses in the LA area. Additional honorees were youtube sensation and performer, Todrick Hall along with the tireless work of one of the original Divas, Mother Evelyn Braxton. Thunderous performances included Kenny Latimore, Thelma Houston, and Jenifer Lewis who also did a book signing at the Divas Simply Singing VIP reception.
Sheryl Lee Ralph is best known for her enterprising role as Deena Jones in the original “Dreamgirls” on Broadway cast and countless other films including, “A Piece of the Action”, “Sister Act 2”, and “The Distinguished Gentelman”. Her television credits include, “Moesha”, “The Proud Family”, and most recently “Ray Donavan”. ,
Ralph has dedicated the last 30 years of her life to shining the spotlight on HIV and AIDS. “It started for me as an original company member of ‘Dreamgirls’ on Broadway, and to me, I always say, that that was one of the greatest times in my life’ and it was also one of the worst times of my life because I started to see my friends and many of the Dreamgirls cast members get sick and die of this mysterious disease,” remembers Ralph. “I saw first hand how horrible people could be to one another and some of my friends were left to die alone and it was a horrible death. The little church girl in me said that we can do better for these people and other people that are suffering from this disease.”
Spectacularly designed by Williams P. Miller events planner, the Tylanda Center was transformed into a beautiful reception full of vibrant flowers and decorative dinnerware. Sheryl Lee Ralph was elegantly styled by her daughter, 23-year-old model and stylist, Ivy Coco. Ralph was dressed in a silver slim fitting jumpsuit and diamond crown for the red carpet. Throughout the performances and presentations, Ralph underwent four wardrobe changes in seasonal colors of red, white and emerald green; all the while continuing to raise funds and awareness for the fight against the spread of HIV and AIDS.
One of the most powerful presentations of the night was seeing Sheryl Lee Ralph with her DreamGirls co-star, Jennifer Holiday. Holiday belted out her infamous rendition of “And I am telling you, I’m not going,” before an exuberant audience of admirers.
It was in 1990 that the Divinely Inspired Victoriously Aware (D.I.V.A) Foundation became a national not-for-profit 501c(3) charitable organization. It was established as a living and breathing memorial to the many friends Ralph lost to HIV/AIDS. The D.I.V.A. Foundation uniquely uses the transformational power of the arts as a vehicle to raise funds, awareness, and erase the stigma still connected to HIV/AIDS. The foundation promotes mental wellness, and educates people about STDs including HIV, Hepatitis C, and other life-threatening diseases. Each year Ralph and her foundation supporters bring friends and family together to remember and celebrate one glorious song at a time; reflecting on how far we’ve come and how far we have left to go in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
“I took the word Diva and turned it into something that had much more memory, and every year we simply raise our voices in song, in commitment, to remind people that this horrible thing happened and that these people survived in us and that they were good people, kind people and they will forever be remembered,” voiced Ralph. “When I started this foundation 27 years ago, people told me that I was a fool. They said people are not going to like you. It’s not a pretty subject and if you’re gonna be a star…you can’t do this. I followed my own mind and 27 years later, Diva’s Simply Singing is the longest consecutive running musical AIDS benefit in the country.”