Oprah was born Orpah Gail Winfrey on January 29, 1954, in Kosciusko, MS. She was named after the biblical character in the book of Ruth. Orpah was just too hard for people to say and the name Oprah stuck.
Oprah was born in Kosciusko, MS to an unmarried teenage mother. Her mother, Vernita Lee (1935) was a house maid. Winfrey's biological father is noted as Vernon Winfrey (1933), a coal miner turned barber turned city councilman, who was in the Armed Forces when Oprah was born. However Noah Robinson Sr. (1925) has claimed that he is her father.
After Oprah was born, her mother moved north and left Oprah to live with her grandmother, Hattie Mae (Presley) Lee (04/15/1900 - 02/27/1963). She spent the first six years of her life living with her grandmother in rural poverty. They were so poor that she had to wear potato sack dresses, because of this, the other kids made fun of her and nick-named her sack-girl. Her grandmother taught her to read and write before the age of three. She always took Oprah to church. The "church people" nick-named her "The Preacher", because of her ability to recite bible verses.
At age six Oprah went to live with her mother in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, this was due to her grandmother being ill and no longer capable of caring for her. Her mother was not supportive and encouraging like her grandmother was, mostly because of the long hours that she worked as a maid.
Oprah has stated that at the age of 9, she was molested by a cousin, an uncle, and a family friend. This continued until the age of 13. That is when Oprah ran away. At the age of 14, she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. Her son was born premature and died shortly after birth.
Shortly after this Oprah began going to Lincoln High School and after great success in the Upward Bound program, she was transferred to Nicolet High School. The kids at the school constantly made fun of her, this in turn caused Oprah to steal, argue and lie to her mother, and go out with older boys. During this time Vernita had given birth to another daughter, and her mother was having trouble raising both girls, so she sent Oprah to live with her father in Nashville, Tennessee.
Oprah's father was strict, but he built her up and made education a priority, much the same as her grandmother had. Winfrey became an honors student, was voted most popular girl, and joined her high school (East Nashville High School) speech team, where she placed second in the nation for dramatic interpretation. She also won an oratory contest and that is what secured her a full scholarship to Tennessee State University, where she studied communications.
At the age of 17 she won the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant. This got the attention of a local black radio station (WVOL), which hired her to read the news on a part-time basis. She worked here her senior year of high school and her first two years of college.
Oprah was both the youngest news anchor and the first black female anchor at Nashville's WLAC-TV. In 1976 she moved to Baltimore to co-anchor the 6 o'clock news. In 1977 she was demoted and worked lesser positions.
In August of that year she was recruited to co-host a local talk show, People Are Talking.
In 1983 she moved to Chicago to host a low-rated half-hour talk show, AM Chicago. Within months of her taking over the show, it went from last place ratings to overtaking Phil Donahue as the highest rated talk show host in Chicago.
At this point, Roger Ebert persuaded her to sign a syndication deal with King World. Once she signed the deal, AM Chicago was expanded to a full hour and renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show.
The Oprah Winfrey Show began on September 9, 1986. Oprah's show brought in twice Donahue's national audience and she replaced him as the #1 talk show host in America.entertainment projects into production prompted her to form her own production company, Harpo Productions, Inc., in 1986. Today, Harpo is a 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, 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.
Initially, The Oprah Winfrey Show followed a model established by other daytime talk shows, employing sensational stories and outrageous guests to attract viewers, but since the 1990s, Oprah began to emphasize spiritual values, healthy living and self-help, and her program became more popular than ever. 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. Oprah Winfrey was named one of the “100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century” by Time magazine, and in 1998 received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Despite her complete dominance of the daytime talk show field, Oprah Winfrey had not given up her acting ambitions. In 1998, she produced and starred in the feature film Beloved, adapted from the book by the Nobel Prize-winning American author Toni Morrison. Winfrey has 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's Book Club. 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.
Oprah’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 featuring programming designed primarily for women. 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.
The Oprah Winfrey Show remained as popular as ever, airing in 140 countries around the world. Many of her regular guests, including Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz, have gone on to shows of their own, produced by Harpo Productions. Over the years, she has also used her program to promote the many philanthropic ventures she supports.
She established the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, near Johannesburg, South Africa. Her legendary generosity has extended not only to her favorite charities, but to her loyal viewers. She celebrated the beginning of her 20th season on national television by giving every member of the studio audience a brand new Pontiac automobile.
In the 2008 presidential election, Winfrey publicly endorsed a political candidate for the first time, hosting a fundraiser for Senator Barack Obama and appearing with him at campaign events. It is widely believed that her support was crucial to his winning the Democratic nomination — and the presidency itself.
In that election year, she also announced plans for a new broadcasting venture with the Discovery Health Channel, to be renamed Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). In a 2010 interview on the Larry King program she announced her decision to end her run on The Oprah Winfrey Show. The final broadcast took place on May 25, 2011, after 24 seasons and over 5,000 broadcasts. The end of the syndicated program was not the end of Oprah Winfrey’s broadcasting career. She now hosts a nightly program, Oprah’s Lifeclass, on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
Two decades after she first established herself as a national presence, Oprah Winfrey was still devoting much of her prodigious energy to film and television production. 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.
Oprah makes her principal home on a 42-acre ocean-view estate in Montecito, California, just south of Santa Barbara, but also owns homes in another six states and the island of Antigua.
The business press measures her wealth in many ways: She is the highest-paid performer on television, the richest self-made woman in America, and the richest African American of the 20th century. She has a profound influence over the way people everywhere read, eat, exercise, feel and think about themselves and the world around them. She appears on every list of leading opinion-makers, and has been rightly called “the most powerful woman in the world.” Her wide-ranging philanthropic efforts were recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2011 with a special Oscar statuette, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded her the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Oprah Winfrey has also donated more than $20 million to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. 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.