From the days of the late actress Hattie McDaniel and entrepreneur Eunice Johnson in the early 20th century, Black women have always forged paths of leadership, fighting for success while giving tirelessly of themselves.
“I don’t think you ever stop giving. I really don’t. I think it’s an on-going process,” Oprah Winfrey has said. “And it’s not just about being able to write a check. It’s being able to touch somebody’s life.”
It was Winfrey’s pioneering ways that helped carve out a niche for model Tyra Banks and supported singer Beyonce’s meteoric rise to prominence. Today, all three are an affirmation that Black women have a place at the table of leadership. They have successfully overcome their setbacks and defeats with a fierce determination that has also earned them millions of dollars.
Born January 29, 1954, the talk show mogul garnered huge TV ratings almost from the start, and cut into viewership of rival talk show hosts including Phil Donahue and Sally Jesse Raphael to climb to the top.
Winfrey is ranked among the most influential women in the world, and was distinguished in 2005 by Forbes as the world’s only African-American billionaire. Her show is currently in its 25th year, but Winfrey recently announced that she’s calling it quits after this season.
Winfrey is also a magazine publisher and highly respected book critic whose reviews have jump-started the careers of many authors. The big-hearted host also has a flair for dramatic roles, and has gone on to become a credible actress, starting with the mid-1980s role of Sophia in the acclaimed movie, “The Color Purple.” She also founded the TV network, Oxygen.
But the Kosciusko, Miss., native came from meager beginnings and a deprived childhood. Her parents were poor unwed teenagers who later worked jobs as a housekeeper and barber. At age 14, Oprah, herself still a rebellious teen, gave birth to a stillborn son.
Because she possessed a strong interest in books and developing her oratory skills, Winfrey leaned toward education. While in high school, she won an oratory contest and the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant. She also won a scholarship to Tennessee State University where she studied communications. But Winfrey didn’t receive her undergraduate degree from the school until well after her career had developed into full swing.
While living in Nashville, she became the city’s youngest news anchor and the first Black female to anchor a TV news show there. Winfrey’s career later took her to Baltimore where she anchored the 6 p.m. news, then to Chicago to host her own morning show.
The show soon began increasing in viewership and Winfrey began the path to superstardom when it was renamed from “AM Chicago” to “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
Winfrey continues to give generously to charities, and as an education advocate, opened a school for girls in South Africa. In late 2009, she provided a $1.5 million gift for an inner city school in Atlanta.
Since she was a little girl practicing in front of the mirror at home, Beyonce Knowles-Carter has often gone the extra mile in her journey to the top of the entertainment world.
The dynamic singer has also proven herself a serious actress in big-screen films such as “Dreamgirls” and “Cadillac Records.” Her schedule is so packed that she once traveled around the world in one week promoting one of her movies and performing in concert.
“I feel like I’m so blessed and I’m very fortunate and have more than I ever thought I would,” Beyonce said in a 2008 interview with Oprah. “But I feel like I’ve worked very hard for everything.”
Beyonce was born on Sept. 4, 1981 in Houston, Texas. As a perky pre-teen, she launched her singing career with the all-girl R&B group Destiny’s Child. The group started out performing around Houston and released their first, self-titled hit record in 1997. The album garnered three top 10 hits on the Billboard R&B singles chart.
But internal conflict led to the original trio’s breakup in 2000. The group released the following year to release their third album, “Survivor,” and in 2004, Beyonce launched her solo career with “Dangerously in Love,” followed by “B’Day” in September 2006 to coincide with her 25th birthday.
Beyonce also performed the Etta James classic, “At Last”, during one of President Obama’s inaugural balls. She has won numerous industry awards, including a Golden Globe nomination for her acting ability and an Oscar for the song “Listen,” which she recorded for the movie “Dreamgirls.”
As an up-and-coming businesswoman, Beyonce currently partners with her mother Tina Knowles for their ready-to wear House of Dereon fashion line, and with her sister Solange Knowles for her Dereon line of clothing. In December 2009, Beyonce launched her first fragrance, Beyoncé Heat.
In 2008, Beyonce married hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter.
One of supermodel-turned-businesswoman Tyra Banks’ key mantras is to, “take responsibility for yourself because no one’s going to take responsibility for you.”
Banks was born on Dec. 4, 1973 in Inglewood, Calif. to a mother who was a medical and business photographer. After completing high school at age 17, the effervescent, but aggressive, Banks dived into a full-time career with the Los Angeles modeling agency Elite.
In an interview with “Biography: The True Story,” Banks said she first developed an interest in modeling because she often held her mother’s light meters and reflectors on photo shoots.
“My mom would bring me into the darkroom, which was on our back porch, and develop the film,” Banks said. “I was fascinated watching the pictures appear with that red light shining. It’s so funny that the little assistant holding the lights was a supermodel in the making.”
But the business-savvy star, who hosts her self-titled talk show and serves as executive producer of the long-running reality series, “America’s Next Top Model,” didn’t always think she was pretty.
However, she had enough confidence in herself that at age 20 she became just the third woman of color to sign a contract as a spokeswoman for Cover Girl cosmetics. Banks, best known for her work with Victoria’s Secret, was also the first Black model featured on the covers of GQ magazine and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
With those successes, Banks received all the rewards and accolades from being a first-class model. But she still aspired to take her talents into the homes of Americans across the country.
“I never lost the dream of being in TV. When I hit 32, I said, ‘Let me leave this industry before it leaves me,’” Banks told “Biography.” “I didn’t want to be like those boxers who continue to get beat up and say they’re going to retire, but they don’t, and then their legacy is marred. I wanted to leave on top.”
And she did, successfully making the transition from the catwalk to Hollywood, where, having won two Emmy Awards for her talk show, Banks has remained at the top of her game.