Woman Making History #49: Oprah Winfrey

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Oprah_Winfrey.jpgToday we've got someone everybody has heard of.

Oprah Winfrey was born in 1954 in Mississippi. She was raised by her grandmother on a farm until she was six, then lived in Milwaukee with her mother until she reached her teens. Winfrey ran away at 13, due to abuse and molestation, and after she was rejected from an overly full juvenile detention center, she was sent to live with her father in Nashville.

Winfrey's broadcast career began in her late teens, when she got a job at a Nashville radio station. She later worked in local television while attending Tennessee State University. In 1976, she moved to Baltimore to become a news anchor, and she was soon serving as a cost-host of a local talk show.

In 1984, Winfrey moved again, this time to Chicago, to take a job hosting a local talk show, AM Chicago. In 1985, the format of the show was expanded and it was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show. It has been seen nationally since 1986.

The Oprah Winfrey Show became the number one talk show in the nation in less than a year. It was immediately embraced by the public and critics alike, winning numerous Daytime Emmys in its first year of eligibility. In 1988, Winfrey won the International Radio and Television Society's "Broadcaster of the Year" award. She was the youngest person ever to receive the honor, and only the 5th woman.

Along with her show, Winfrey also started doing serious acting in the 1980s. In 1985, she portrayed Sofia in Steven Spielberg's adaptation of the Alice Walker novel The Color Purple. Her performance garnered both Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. She went on to form her own production company, Harpo Productions, in 1986.

By 1988, Harpo had acquired the rights to The Oprah Winfrey Show. This made Winfrey the first woman ever to own and produce her own talk show. Harpo went on to produce the television miniseries The Women of Brewster Place (1989), TV movies There Are No Children Here (1993) and Before Women Had Wings (1997), and the feature films Beloved (1998), an adaptation of Toni Morrison's novel, and Their Eyes Were Watching God (2005), an adaptation of the Zora Neale Hurston novel. Winfrey appeared in all of these productions but the last one.

Aside from her television and film work, Winfrey also publishes two magazines, O, the Oprah Magazine and O at Home, and has co-authored several books, mostly dealing with her weight struggles and various diets and exercise plans. In 2002, Fortune magazine called O the most successful start-up ever in the magazine industry.

Winfrey's work has not been limited to entertainment. In 1991, she started an anti-child abuse campaign, focused on establishing a national database of child abuse offenders. Winfrey has also been very involved in her own campaign to get Americans reading more, debuting the very popular Oprah Book Club on her show in 1996. In 1999, she was presented with the National Book Foundation's 50th anniversary gold medal for her involvement with books. In 2000, Winfrey's "Angel Network" began giving $100,000 awards, called "Use Your Life" awards, to people who improve the lives of others. The organization has also given significant amounts to non-profit organizations that support the underprivileged worldwide. In addition, she has used her celebrity and her money towards various causes, including raising over $3 million for victims of Hurricane Katrina and giving nearly $10 million of her own. In 2005, Winfrey became the first black person ever to be listed among Business Week's 50 Most Generous Philanthropists. The 235th richest American, she was the 37th most giving.

Oprah Winfrey has been called the most powerful woman in the world, one of the top 100 most influential people in the 20th century, and the world's only Black billionaire. VH1 recently named her the greatest pop culture icon of all time.

Sources:
Academy of Achievement
Wikipedia
Oprah.com

2 Comments

I just love to watch this great lady. she is inspiring and gives hope for a better tomorrow.

I love to watch this powerful lady, I wish if she can come to Guyana

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