At age 17, Oprah Winfrey won the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant and was offered an on-air job at WVOL, a radio station serving the African American community in Nashville. She also won a full scholarship to Tennessee State University, where she majored in Speech Communications and Performing Arts. Oprah continued to work at WVOL in her first years of college, but her broadcasting career was already taking off. She left school and signed on with a local television station as a reporter and anchor.
In 1976, she moved to Baltimore to join WJZ-TV News as a co-anchor. There, she co-hosted her first talk show, People Are Talking, while continuing to serve as anchor and news reporter. She had found a niche that perfectly suited her outgoing, empathetic personality, and word soon spread to other cities. In January 1984, she was invited to Chicago to host a faltering half-hour morning program on WLS-TV. In less than a year, she turned AM Chicago into the hottest show in town. The format was soon expanded to an hour, and in September 1985 it was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show.
A year later, The Oprah Winfrey Show was broadcast nationally, and quickly became the number one talk show in national syndication. In 1987, its first year of eligibility, the show received three Daytime Emmy Awards in the categories of Outstanding Host, Outstanding Talk/Service Program and Outstanding Direction. The following year, the show received its second consecutive Emmy as Outstanding Talk/Service Program, and Oprah herself received the International Radio and Television Society's "Broadcaster of the Year" Award. She was the youngest person ever to receive the honor.
By the time America fell in love with Oprah Winfrey the talk show host, she had already captured the nation's attention with her poignant portrayal of Sofia in Steven Spielberg's 1985 adaptation of Alice Walker's novel, The Color Purple. Winfrey's performance earned her nominations for an Oscar and a Golden Globe Award as Best Supporting Actress. Critics again lauded her performance inNative Son, a movie adaptation of Richard Wright's classic 1940 novel.
"The Miss Black America Pageant put a flower in my mind."- Oprah Winfrey
Winfrey is best known for her talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show, which was the highest-rated program of its kind in history and was nationally syndicated from 1986 to 2011. Dubbed the "Queen of All Media", she has been ranked the richest African-American of the 20th century, the greatest black philanthropist in American history, and is currently (2015) North America's only black billionaire. Several assessments regard her as the most influential woman in the world. In 2013, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama and honorary doctorate degrees from Duke and Harvard.