Oprah Winfrey has achieved success far beyond her earlier circumstances, and continues to be a living inspiration to all. We take a look back at the life of the influential media pioneer, businesswoman, author, and public figure on her birthday.
Born Orpah Winfrey in Kosciusko, Mississippi, the name morphed to “Oprah” due to people saying her name incorrectly. Her mother was a single teen parent and hardships were plentiful for them in Winfrey’s early years. At six, she moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and was raised between there and Nashville, Tennessee. As Winfrey bravely shared in public, family members molested her for years and she lived a reckless life as a teenager.
However, Winfrey was also a brilliant student and orator, and at 17 she won the Miss Black Tennessee Beauty Pageant which led to her career in broadcast journalism. At 19, she became the youngest and first Black female anchor for Nashville’s WLAC-TV, all while studying at Tennessee State University. She then moved to Baltimore to become the anchor for WJZ-TV before moving to host local talk show, People Are Talking.
In 1984, Winfrey moved to Chicago to host WLS-TV’s morning show AM Chicago, which was a low-rated series before Winfrey joined and surpassing the popular Donahue show in ratings. Renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show, it was nationally syndicated in 1986 and still remains the highest-rated daytime talk show in American history.
While the show started with a tabloid-style format in its early days, Winfrey pushed for more significant topics such as health, finance and relationships. The move transformed Winfrey into an icon and became the model that other similar shows have failed to emulate since. The series ended in 2011, but not before Winfrey leveraged other ventures from the success of the show to her advantage.
Winfrey holds the distinction of the richest Black person in America, and North America’s first Black multi-billionaire. Along with her Harpo Productions and Oprah Winfrey Network holdings, Winfrey is still one of the top players in media today.
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