Friday 21 June 2024


Photo of Oprah Winfrey (born January 29, 1954) when she attended Tennessee State University. She was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi. At age 17, Oprah Winfrey won the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant and was offered an on-air job at WVOL, a radio station serving the African American community in Nashville. She also won a full scholarship to Tennessee State University, where she majored in speech communications and performing arts. Oprah continued to work at WVOL in her first years of college, but her broadcasting career was already taking off. She left school and signed on with a local television station as a reporter and anchor. Years later, she delivered her final paper and received her degree from Tennessee State University in 1987.

In 1976, she moved to Baltimore to join WJZ-TV News as a co-anchor. There, she co-hosted her first talk show, People Are Talking, while continuing to serve as anchor and news reporter. She had found a niche that perfectly suited her outgoing, empathetic personality, and word soon spread to other cities. In January 1984, she was invited to Chicago to host a faltering half-hour morning program on WLS-TV. In less than a year, she turned AM Chicago into the hottest show in town. The format was soon expanded to an hour, and in September 1985 it was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show.

A year later, The Oprah Winfrey Show was broadcast nationally, and quickly became the number one talk show in national syndication. In 1987, its first year of eligibility, the show received three Daytime Emmy Awards in the categories of Outstanding Host, Outstanding Talk/Service Program and Outstanding Direction. The following year, the show received its second consecutive Emmy as Outstanding Talk/Service Program, and Oprah herself received the International Radio and Television Society’s “Broadcaster of the Year” Award. She was the youngest person ever to receive the honor.

By the time America fell in love with Oprah Winfrey the talk show host, she had already captured the nation’s attention with her portrayal of Sofia in Steven Spielberg’s 1985 adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple. Winfrey’s performance earned her nominations for an Oscar and a Golden Globe Award as Best Supporting Actress. Critics again lauded her performance in Native Son, a movie adaptation of Richard Wright’s classic 1940 novel.

Her love of acting and her desire to bring quality entertainment projects into production prompted her to form her own production company, Harpo Productions, Inc., in 1986. Today, Harpo is a formidable force in film and television production, as well as magazine publishing and the Internet. In 1988, Harpo Productions, Inc. acquired ownership and all production responsibilities for The Oprah Winfrey Show from Capital Cities/ABC, making Oprah Winfrey the first woman in history to own and produce her own talk show. The following year, Harpo produced its first television miniseries, The Women of Brewster Place, with Oprah Winfrey as star and executive producer. It was quickly followed by the TV movies There Are No Children Here (1993), and Before Women Had Wings (1997), which she both produced and appeared in. In 1998, she produced and starred in the feature film Beloved, adapted from the book by the Nobel Prize-winning American author Toni Morrison. 

Motivated in part by her own memories of childhood abuse, she initiated a campaign to establish a national database of convicted child abusers, and testified before a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on behalf of a National Child Protection Act. President Clinton signed the “Oprah Bill” into law in 1993, establishing the national database she had sought, which is now available to law enforcement agencies and concerned parties across the country.

Oprah’s show also continued to attract the top names in the entertainment industry; a 1993 interview with the reclusive entertainer Michael Jackson drew 100 million viewers, making it the most-watched interview in television history.

Winfrey has long used her television program to champion the works of authors she admires, including Morrison, and her longtime friend Maya Angelou. Her influence over the publishing industry exploded when she began her on-air book club in 1996. “Oprah Book Club” selections became instant bestsellers, and in 1999 Winfrey received the National Book Foundation’s 50th-anniversary gold medal for her service to books and authors. She herself has authored five books. A book on weight loss, co-written with her personal trainer, received a publisher’s advance fee reported to be the highest in history.

Oprah Winfrey’s business interests have extended well beyond her own production company. She is one of the partners in Oxygen Media, Inc., a cable channel and interactive network presenting programming designed primarily for women. With her success, she has also become one of the world’s most generous philanthropists. In 2000, Oprah’s Angel Network began presenting a $100,000 “Use Your Life Award” to people who are using their own lives to improve the lives of others. She now publishes two magazines: O, The Oprah Magazine, and O at Home. The launch of her first magazine was the most successful start-up in the history of the industry. When Forbes published its list of America’s billionaires for the year 2003, it disclosed that Oprah Winfrey was the first African American woman to become a billionaire.

In 2005, she produced a film adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, with a screenplay by Suzan-Lori Parks. The same year, she produced a successful Broadway musical version of The Color Purple. As an actress, she has been heard in a number of successful animated films, including Charlotte’s Web, Bee Movie and The Princess and the Frog.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Oprah created the Oprah Angel Network Katrina registry which raised more than $11 million for relief efforts. Winfrey personally gave $10 million to the cause. Homes were built in Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama before the one-year anniversary of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

In 2002, Oprah Winfrey and South African President Nelson Mandela were talking about combating poverty. Winfrey, who was staying at the President’s home, said she believes education is the key to leveling the playing field—and revealed she intended to one day build a school for girls in the country. Mandela immediately jumped into action to make sure that day was as soon as possible. Just five years later, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls (OWLAG) opened its doors. Each student has had to overcome childhood poverty and trauma during their lives, yet also possesses a resilience, courage and spirit seldom that make them stand out among their peers. Winfrey, who was born into poverty in the Jim Crow south, says, “I wanted to build a school for girls like me.” She describes an OWLAG girl as having “an indefinable quality of tenacity, charisma and smarts.”

In 2008, she also announced plans for a new broadcasting venture with the Discovery Health Channel, to be renamed Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).

On September 24, 2016, she participated in a dedication ceremony during the grand opening of the Washington, D.C. museum, which includes the 350-seat Oprah Winfrey Theater, named in her honor. Oprah Winfrey has also donated more than $20 million to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.


Oprah Winfrey was named one of the “100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century” by Time magazine. She has won many accolades throughout her career which includes 18 Daytime Emmy Awards (including the Lifetime Achievement Award and the Chairman's Award), two Primetime Emmy Awards (including the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award), a Tony Award, a Peabody Award, and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award awarded by the Academy Awards, in addition to two competitive Academy Award nominations.

In 1994, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded her the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Winfrey was elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2021.

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