Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey, (born January 29, 1954) is a multiple-Emmy Award winning host of The Oprah Winfrey Show, the highest rated talk show in television history. She is also an influential book critic, an Academy Award-nominated actress, and a magazine publisher. According to Forbes magazine, she was the richest African American of the 20th century and the world's only Black billionaire for three straight years. Life magazine has ranked her as the most influential woman of her generation and Time magazine has ranked her as one of only four people in history to have shaped both the 20th century and the early 21st. In 2005, Business Week ranked her as the greatest Black philanthropist in American history.

Oprah Winfrey was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, to a Baptist family. Her parents were unmarried teenagers. She was originally named Orpah Gail Winfrey, after one of the people in the Bible's Book of Ruth. Winfrey has said that because of problems spelling or pronouncing Orpah, the "r" and the "p" were reversed. Her mother, Vernita Lee, was a housemaid, and her father, Vernon Winfrey, was a coal miner and later worked as a barber before becoming a city councilman. Winfrey's father was in the Armed Forces when she was born. After her birth, Winfrey's mother travelled north and Winfrey spent her first six years living in rural poverty with her Grandma Hattie Mae. Winfrey's grandmother taught her to read before the age of three and took her to the local church, where she was nicknamed "The Preacher" for her ability to recite Bible verses. When Winfrey was a child, her grandmother would take a switch and would hit her with it when she didn't do chores or if she misbehaved in any way.

At age six, Winfrey moved to an inner city ghetto in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her mother, who was less supportive and encouraging than her grandmother. Winfrey has stated that she was molested by her cousin, uncle, and a family friend. Despite her dysfunctional home life, Winfrey skipped two of her earliest grades, became the teacher's pet, and by the time she was 13 received a scholarship to attend Nicolet High School in the suburbs, known as Glendale, Wisconsin. Although Winfrey was very popular, she couldn't afford to go out on the town as frequently as her better-off classmates. Like many teenagers at the end of the 1960s, Winfrey rebelled, ran away from home and ran the streets. When she was 14, her frustrated mother sent her to live with her father in Nashville, Tennessee. Vernon was strict, but encouraging and made her education a priority. Winfrey became an honors student, was voted "Most Popular Girl", joined her high school speech team, and placed second in the nation in dramatic interpretation. She won an oratory contest, which secured her a full scholarship to Tennessee State University, a historically black institution, where she studied communications. At age 18, Winfrey won the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant.

Winfrey's boyfriend from high school, Anthony Otey, would later recall what Winfrey was like during those early years:

"...she knew what she wanted very early in life. She said she wanted to be a movie star. She wanted to be an actress. And I praise God that she's done that. She was willing to put aside a lot of other things. Back in the seventies, drugs had started entering the schools, and that kind of thing. We were involved in integration and those fights in those years. We were actively involved in that, but she knew what she wanted to do. She worked hard at it, and when her ship started to sail, she got aboard."

Winfrey's grandmother has said that ever since Winfrey could talk, she was "on stage". In her youth she played games interviewing her corncob doll and the crows on the fence of her family's property. But her true media career began at age 17, when Winfrey worked at a local radio station while attending Tennessee State University.

Working in local media, she was both the youngest news anchor and the first black female news anchor at Nashville's WLAC-TV. She moved to Baltimore's WJZ-TV in 1976 to co-anchor the six o'clock news. She was then recruited to join Richard Sher as co-host of WJZ's local talk show People Are Talking, which premiered on August 14, 1978. She also hosted the local version of Dialing for Dollars there as well. (Credit: Wikipedia).


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