Sheryl Lee Ralph made Super Bowl history with a powerful opening performance

Sheryl Lee Ralph made Super Bowl history with a powerful opening performance


Written by Katie Rosseinsky

The Abbott Elementary star performed Lift Every Voice And Sing, known as the Black national anthem. 

What a year it’s been for Sheryl Lee Ralph.

Back in September, the 66-year-old actor and Broadway legend received her first Emmy Award for supporting actress in a comedy series, for her role in Quinta Brunson’s Abbott Elementary, and accepted the trophy by singing a verse from the song Endangered Species, featuring the lyrics: “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.”

Then, earlier this year, she was nominated for her first Golden Globe, and picked up a Critics’ Choice Award too. She gave another powerful acceptance speech at the latter ceremony, telling the audience: “People don’t have to like you. People don’t have to love you. They don’t even have to respect you. But when you look in the mirror, you better love what you see.”

The star’s latest gig? Kicking off proceedings at the Super Bowl with a spine-tingling performance of Lift Every Voice And Sing, a song which is widely known as the Black national anthem. 

Ralph became the first Black performer to sing the hymn on the field before the Super Bowl game (after Alicia Keys sang it in a pre-recorded segment in 2021 and Mary Mary did so from outside the SoFi Stadium in Inglewood last year).

It was written by James Weldon Johnson and his brother J. Rosamund Johnson, and was frequently sung communally within the Black community before it was eventually adopted by the NAACP as the Black national anthem in 1917.

Ralph pointed out on Twitter that her performance coincided with the 123rd anniversary of the hymn being publicly performed, on 12 February 1900.

“It is no coincidence that I will be singing the Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing at the Super Bowl on the same date it was first publicly performed 123 years ago (February 12, 1900),” she wrote. “Happy Black History Month!”

She explained the historic nature of the performance in an earlier post, writing: “Today I will sing it for the 1st time as part of [email protected] show in the stadium”

Naturally, viewers were blown away by her powerhouse performance.

What a joy it is to see a woman in her 60s truly thriving – and, as Stylist’s Leah Sinclair has noted, it’s part of a wider shift where the entertainment industry is finally starting to give talented older women the recognition and success they truly deserve (see also: Jennifer Coolidge and Angela Bassett’s recent awards nominations).

The star was dressed for the occasion in a custom red jumpsuit by Harbison Studio, featuring some dramatic statement sleeves, and matching red gloves (did she compare notes with Rihanna beforehand?)

She was styled by her daughter Ivy Coco, a designer, who also shared behind-the-scenes snaps on social media. 

Musician Chris Stapleton sang the US national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, before the game kicked off, and was accompanied by Coda star Troy Kotsur, who performed the song in American Sign Language (ASL).

His performance comes almost a year after he made history as the first Deaf man to win an Academy Award for acting. 

Images: Getty

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