Oprah Biography Essay

Oprah Winfrey

  • Occupation: Talk Show Host, Actress
  • Born: January 29, 1954 in Kosciusko, Mississippi
  • Best known for:The Oprah Winfrey Show

Oprah Winfrey
Source: US federal government


Where was Oprah Winfrey born?

Oprah Winfrey was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi on January 29, 1954. Her mother was an unwed teenage girl named Vernita Lee. Her father was a U.S. army private named Vernon Winfrey. Oprah's mother named her after a character in the Bible named "Orpah" from the Book of Ruth. However, her name was misspelled "Oprah" on the birth certificate and she has been called Oprah ever since.

A Hard Life Growing Up

When Oprah was still young, her mother moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to find a job. Oprah stayed in Mississippi and lived with her grandmother, Hattie Mae. Life with Hattie Mae was interesting. Young Oprah lived on a farm without running water. She had lots of difficult chores including getting water from the well each day and carrying it up to the house. She also learned to read and write by the age of three, mostly from studying the Bible.

When Oprah turned six, she moved to Wisconsin to live with her mom. She moved around a lot growing up. Sometimes she lived with her mother in Wisconsin and sometimes she lived with her father in Nashville, Tennessee. Oprah's mother was very poor and life in Wisconsin was hard. However, Oprah was a bright student, she loved to read, and did well in school. She graduated from East Nashville High School as an honors student in 1971.

A Young Speaker

From the time Oprah was a small child growing up with her grandmother, she was a gifted speaker. She often spoke at church, at women's groups, and at school. When she was in high school she won a speech contest and earned a full scholarship to college. She used the scholarship to attend Tennessee State University.

Getting on the Radio

In 1971, Oprah was encouraged to enter the Miss Teen Fire Prevention pageant by a local radio disc jockey. Much to her surprise, she won first place. In the interview, Oprah said that her goal was to become a broadcast journalist. After the pageant she was offered a job as a news reader on the local radio. She loved the job and knew then that her future was going to be in radio and TV.

A Nashville News Anchor

While still attending college, Oprah got a call from the CBS news station in Nashville. They wanted her to be their news anchor. She couldn't believe it. At first she thought she should turn the job down and concentrate on school, but then she realized what a great opportunity it was. She took the job and became the first female African-American news anchor in Nashville history. She was only nineteen at the time.

Becoming a TV Talk Show Host

In 1976, Oprah moved to a TV station in Baltimore, Maryland. At first she worked as a news anchor, but things weren't working out very well. She was moved to a TV talk show called People are Talking. The first day on the job, Oprah knew she had found her calling. She said it was "like breathing." Soon her show became very popular. She was then recruited to host a morning TV show in Chicago called A.M. Chicago. When she arrived in Chicago, the show was in last place in the ratings. The first place show was the popular Phil Donahue Show. However, in just a few months, A.M. Chicago had taken over first place. A few years later, in 1986, the show was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show and was shown all over the country.


With the launch of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Oprah became one of the most famous people in the country. Over 10 million people watched her show every day. Oprah also made a lot of money. Her show made $125 million the first year and Oprah's income was $30 million. She had come a long way from her grandma's farm without running water.


Even though Oprah's talk show was a huge success, she had always wanted to work as an actress in the movies. She got her first major role in the movie The Color Purple in 1985. It turned out that Oprah had a real talent for acting. She did such a great job that she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Over the years, Oprah has acted in other films such as The Women of Brewster Place (1989), Beloved (1998), The Princess and the Frog (2009), and The Butler (2013).

Other Activities

Besides her national talk show and acting, Oprah is famous for other activities. She co-founded the cable TV media company Oxygen Media and started a magazine called O: The Oprah Magazine. She even founded her own TV network called the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) in 2009. Oprah also started a charity called the Angel Network.

Interesting Facts about Oprah Winfrey
  • Oprah was crowned Miss Black Tennessee in 1972. She stopped doing beauty pageants when her career took off.
  • She started her own production company called Harpo Productions. "Harpo" is Oprah spelled backwards.
  • Oprah is also famous for her weight loss and weight gain. She has lost weight several times and then gained it back.
  • As of 2013, her estimated net worth was $2.8 billion.
  • The Oprah Winfrey Show aired for 25 years. Its final episode was on May 24, 2011.
  • She was named the most influential woman of her generation by Life magazine.
  • She has a fear of chewing gum that she has had since she was a little girl.

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“The Oprah Winfrey Show”. Her show is known to not only all over the United States, but also known to all around the world. Today she is known as the America’s most famous and powerful woman. Every woman in America envies her great fortune and her intelligence. But Oprah insists that she is not special or gifted. She had overcome many hurdles and reached to the top of America’s national T.V host. What makes her so popular and most loved entertainer in the United States?

Oprah Winfrey, a talk show host, actress, producer and philanthropist, and business woman is the chairwoman of HARPO entertainment in Chicago. She joins the elite company of Lucille Ball and Mary Pickford, as the only woman in T.V and film to own their own production studios. Through HARPO productions, she produces and hosts America’s number one popular show, “The Oprah Winfrey show”. (Oprah Winfrey talk show bio 1997 p.1) Today many woman in America envies her life; her popularity, intelligence and her great fortunes. Though her success was gained from her hard work and education. She did not have any special background to be a most loved woman in America. She has overcame number of obstacles that most people have encountered in their own lives. She had to deal with poverty, sexual abuse, racism as a child, and her lifelong battle with weight.

Oprah Gail Winfrey was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi on January 29, 1954. As a child, she moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, then moved back to Nashville. She has lived through poverty, repeated sexual abuse, and a sentence to a juvenile delinquent home. (Hyde 1997 p.57) Oprah was crowned Miss. Black Tennessee at age 19. In 1973. She left Tennessee State University and became a newscaster for WTVF in Nashville. Three years later, Oprah became a news anchor in Baltimore at an ABC station but after 9 months, she was pulled off the air because of an emotional ad-lib delivery. She eventually ended up in Chicago hosting a morning show called “AM Chicago”. In less than a year, the show became number one and was expanded to one hour and re-named “The Oprah Winfrey Show”. (http://pilot.msu.edu/user/bresnah2/oprahbio.htm 1997 p.1) From there, she has been an actress in the “Color Purple”, “The women of Breuster place” and “There are no children here”.(Oprah Winfrey)

Today, “The Oprah Winfrey Show” is the highest rated talk show in T.V history, and seen by 15 to 20 million viewers a day in the United States and is in 132 countries. Since entering syndication in 1986, “The Oprah Winfrey Show” has remained the number one talk show for 10 consecutive seasons, receiving 25 Emmys. At the end of 1996, Oprah was honored with the most prestigious award in broadcasting, the George Foster Peaboy’s Individual Achievement Award. She also received the IRTS Gold Medal Award, and was recognized by Time magazine as one of “America’s 25 most influential people of 1996”.(Oprah Winfrey talk show bio 1997 p1)

According to US news & World Report, Oprah has an ability called “Oprah effect”. It is her ability to make a connection with ordinary women and through that connection, she makes herself one of the most popular women (Dickerson 1997 p.10) In spite of her wealth, she has a public’s taste. She knows what ordinary women want, whatare their troubles and what they are crazy about. Stuart Fishoff, professor of media psychology at UCLA says, “viewers want to be around someone like themselves. They want a nonthreatning person they can identify with. And Oprah has a lot of same problems that many of these women has and can relate to. Viewers have no trouble envisioning her sitting home at the kitchen table in sweats and no makeup, drinking caffeine and chomping a Danish”.(Stanley 1997 p.34) This feeling of closeness is Oprah’s strongest point that makes her a billionaire. And to get more close with publics, Oprah picks up a book every six weeks and asks audience to talk about the title.

What makes her popular are not only her talent as an entertainer but also her talent as a good announcer. She has all requirements that are necessary for a good announcer. First, she always research and prepare about the topic of the day before the show. This preparation and research makes her able to answer any kind of controversial issues. And she is always able to support both sides of the issue and never makes the audience unsatisfied or misleaded. Second, she has a high self esteem. She always has confidence and are full of energy. Loosing many weights gave her more confidence and higher self-esteem and made her show even better than before. Third, she shows respects to audience and guests by listening really well to their opinions. She answers them with direct eye contact and with rational answers. Other characteristics that makes her a good announcer are her usage of appropriate words and language. She knows what words are appropriate to which races and ages. For an example, she knows some words which are O.K. to Afro-Americans but are taboo to White-Americans. She also shows interest in any kind of topics. This comes from her adventurous spirit and her eagerness to learn something new. She always talks in nice tempo and rates so that audience can follow her. And finally, she is very unique and funny that has a talent to make the other laugh. With these characteristics and her hard work, Oprah has become the best entertainer in American talk show.

Today Oprah is the highest-paid woman in entertainment. Her show is not just an entertainment but she deals with social problems which exist in all around the world. And she contributes her self and her show to make the country better. People not only praise her intelligence but her efforts to deal with these social issues. Today Oprah is using her philantrophic efforts to establish educational scholarship for hundreds of students in school and Universities throughout country, including 100 men at Morehouse University in Atlanta, Georgia.(Oprah Winfrey talk show bio P.2) By September 15th, she is obligated to inform whether she will continue for another two year hitch after 1997-98 season.(Schlosser 1997 p.10) It is uncertain that whether she will still keep hosting her show or not, though many women are hoping her to remain in the show and share her power and intelligence with them. Oprah’s effect on T.V is so great that since she started to appear on the show, many similar talk shows increased dramatically. And most of these talk show hosts are very popular just like Oprah. Though I believe no one among them can influence American women just like Oprah did.

1. Benezra, K. (1997). Products pitch talk hosts. Media week, pp. 6.
2. Dickerson, D (1997). A womans’s woman. U.S News & World Report. pp.10.
3. Hyde, W.S (1991). Television and Radio Announcing. Boston:Houghton Mifflin Company.
4. Schlosser, J (1997). Oprah watch. Broadcasting & Cable. pp. 10.
5. Stanley, T.L (1997). What they’ve got. Media week. pp. 34-35.
6. http://pilot.msu.edu/user/bresnah2/oprabio.htm. (1997). Oprah Winfrey. pp1.
7. http://www.datalist.idsite.com/oprah-table.html. (1997). Oprah Winfrey. pp1.
8. http://www.tvtalkshows.com/oprah/bio/. (1997). Oprah Winfrey Talk Show Bio. pp1-2.

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