Born Oprah Gail Winfrey to a single mother in rural Mississippi, Oprah entered the world on January 29, 1954. After a traumatic childhood experience, she was sent to live with another family member in Nashville, Tennessee. Oprah went on to get a job at WVOL radio station while still in high school. That same year, she also won the Miss Black Tennessee Beauty Pageant.
After high school, Oprah attended Tennessee State University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), where she studied Speech Communications and Performing Arts. Despite being only one credit away from completing her degree, Oprah decided to leave college in 1973 for a career opportunity. Oprah would go on to earn her degree in 1987 after achieving national success as a media personality.
The big opportunity turned out to be at Nashville’s WTVF-TV as the youngest news anchor at the station. At a time when the industry was dominated by other demographics, Oprah proved to be a perfect fit as the face of local news.
Then, in 1976, Oprah moved to Baltimore where she co-anchored the six-o’clock news for WJZ-TV. Peaking at a salary of over $220,000 in Baltimore, she continued paving her career trajectory until being let go from the station.
Winfrey’s next opportunity awaited in Chicago as the host of WSL-TV’s AM Chicago. Although at first a low rated television show, months after Winfrey took over, it became one of the highest- rated shows in the country.
In 1986, the first episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show premiered as a spinoff of her WSL-TV program. Ratings quickly beat out the most popular talk shows at the time, earning Winfrey a 4-year contract worth $1 million. Despite her show’s early reputation as a tabloid talk show, Oprah went on to become a household name as she interviewed celebrities and high-profile people, while still discussing topics that everyday people could relate to.
Winfrey eventually became the first Black woman to own and run a television network. The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) launched in January 2011. The network broadcasts episodes of her nationally syndicated talk show, original movies, and other television shows executive produced by Winfrey.
As of August 2021, Oprah is the first Black woman billionaire with a net worth of 2.6 billion. Her climb to wealth started in 1986, when she started Harpo, Inc, a media and entertainment entity that has inked deals with ABC Television Network. At Harpo, Winfrey served as a producer for various movies including the critically acclaimed The Color Purple in which she played a supporting role.
Oprah is also the co-founder of Oxygen Media, which was formed in November 1998 along with Geraldine Laybourne, Marcy Carsey, Tom Werner, Caryn Mandabach. Oxygen Media includes the Oxygen Network, a women’s cable network that launched on February 2, 2000. On November 20, 2007, NBC Universal purchased Oxygen for $925 million.
In April 2000, Oprah and Hearst Magazines introduced O, The Oprah Magazine, a monthly magazine that is now one of today’s leading women’s lifestyle publications. O is credited as being the most successful magazine launch in modern history and has an audience of more than two million readers each month.
Winfrey currently has a 10% stake in WW International, Inc., formerly Weight Watchers International, Inc., worth a reported $34 million. She is also a Weight Watchers spokesperson and has sat on its board of directors since October 2015.