How Oprah Became the First Black Woman Billionaire
Photo Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for NAACP Image Awards

How Oprah Became the First Black Woman Billionaire

Oprah Winfrey is a historic figure in the Black community. For years she was one of the only representations of successful Black women on television. The ups and downs of her life journey has been documented from her tumultuous upbringing to becoming the first Black woman billionaire in 2003. Now, almost 20 years later, her net worth is $3.5 billion, according to Celebrity Net Worth.

Oprah is often transparent when talking about the trials she faced as a youth. She was born in the Jim Crow south into a poor family and experienced a lot of trauma all before the age of 18. Nonetheless, at age 19 she set out to pursue her dreams of working in the media and has been making history ever since.

In 1973, she was hired at WLAC-TV in Nashville and became the youngest and first Black woman to anchor the news at that station. Today the average news anchor makes between $14,000-$95,000 per year depending on the station’s market ranking, according to Indeed.

She continued to climb the news market, making a $220,000 salary as an anchor in Baltimore and then eventually moved to Chicago. In 1984, she started hosting WLS-TV’s morning talk show, which later became the nationally syndicated “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” with a four-year $1 million contract. 

The following year she created HARPO Productions and became the first Black woman to own such a large studio, reaching over 40 million viewers per week in 150 countries, according to OPRAH. For the next 25 years, “The Oprah Winfrey Show” was the highest rated talk show on television.

At the time, Oprah had become a household name because of her legendary performance in blockbuster films “The Color Purple” and “Beloved.” With her impeccable journalism talents and ability to empathize with both her subject and audience, she was able to successfully monetize the trust she built with audiences around the world. 

In the early 2000’s Oprah expanded her career, and her wallet, with business ventures like “O, The Oprah Magazine.” The magazine further strengthened her bond with her fans by giving them the inside scoop on her favorite books, recipes, people, etc. According to Money Magazine, “O” has made over $1 billion in revenue. 

She further grew her production portfolio in 2011 when she founded “OWN,” the Oprah Winfrey Network. The network hosts popular shows like “Queen Sugar,” “Black Love,” “The Have and the Have Nots,” and more. In 2018, Money reported that she sold part of her stake to Discovery Communications for $70 million and she also recently sold even more of her stake.

Over time, Oprah has returned to the big screen with roles in “The Butler” and “Selma” and continues to make occasional acting appearances today. 

Oprah has an extensive philanthropic portfolio too. According to Celebrity Net Worth, she’s given over $400 million to charity and is the recipient of several humanitarian awards.