Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928 in Saint Louis, Missouri. At the age of 16, she became not only the first black streetcar conductor in San Francisco but the first woman conductor. In the mid-1950s, she toured Europe with a production of the opera Porgy and Bess. In 1957, she recorded her first album, Calypso Lady. In 1958, she became a part of the Harlem Writers Guild in New York and played a queen in The Blacks, an off-Broadway production by French dramatist Jean Genet. In 1960, she moved to Cairo, where she edited The Arab Observer, an English-language weekly newspaper. The following year, she went to Ghana where she was features editor of The African Review and taught music and drama at the University of Ghana. In 1964, she moved back to the U.S. to become a civil rights activist by helping Malcolm X build his new coalition, the Organization of African American Unity, and became the northern coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Even though she never went to college, she taught American studies for years at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. In 1993, she became only the second poet in United States history to write and recite an original poem at a Presidential Inauguration when she read On the Pulse of Morning at President Bill Clinton's Inauguration Ceremony. She wrote numerous books during her lifetime including: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Die, All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes, Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now, and Mom and Me and Mom. In 2011, President Barack Obama gave her the Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honor, for her collected works of poetry, fiction and nonfiction. She appeared in the movie Roots and was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 1977 for her role in the movie. She also played a part in the movie, How to Make an American Quilt and wrote and produced Afro-Americans in the Arts, a PBS special for which she received a Golden Eagle Award. She was a three-time Grammy winner. She died on May 28, 2014 at the age of 86.
Oprah Winfrey was born in 1954 in Kosciusko, Mississippi. At the age of 19, Winfrey landed her first broadcasting job as a reporter for radio station WVOL in Nashville. She enrolled in Tennessee State University to study speech and performing arts in 1970, and in 1971, she was named Nashville's Miss Fire Prevention, followed by being named Miss Black Tennessee in 1972. In her sophomore year at Tennessee State University, Winfrey switched to media and became the first African-American anchor at Nashville's WTVF-TV. In 1977 she moved to Baltimore to co-anchor the six o'clock news. Once there she was recruited to co-host Baltimore's WJZ-TV's local talk show, People Are Talking. In 1984 she relocated again, this time to Chicago to host WLS-TV's morning talk show, AM Chicago. AM Chicago becomes the number one talk show a mere month later. In less than a year, the show expanded to one hour and was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show. Winfrey had her feature film debut as "Sofia" in Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple, based on the novel by Alice Walker, in 1985. She received nominations for a Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role. The Oprah Winfrey Show entered syndication 1986 and remained the number one talk show for fourteen consecutive seasons, receiving 34 Emmys throughout it's run, and Oprah is given the honor of hosting the 14th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards in 1987. In 1988 Harpo Productions, Inc., Winfrey's production company is born, and in 1989, Winfrey produced and starred as "Mattie Michael" in the miniseries,The Women of Brewster Place, which recounts the lives of the female denizens of an inner-city brownstone. Again in 1990, she hosted the 17th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards. Winfrey executive produced and performed in the TV Series, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, further promoting Harpo Productions. In 1991, she initiated the National Child Protection Act, testifying in front of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to establish a national database of convicted child abusers. In 1996 she received the George Foster Peabody Individual Achivement Award and the International Radio and Television Society's Gold Medal Award for all of her work in these mediums. She began Oprah's Book Club, an on-air reading club, of which all of the Book Club selections have become instant bestsellers. In 1997, she was named Newsweek's most important person in books and media, and a year later named TV Guide's Television Performer of the Year, as well as one of the 100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century by Time Magazine. She went on to receive the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997 as well. That same year, she announced that she would join producers Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner (Cosby, Roseanne) and Geraldine Laybourne (Nickelodeon) to launch Oxygen Media, Inc., a cable channel and interactive network for women. She also joined Stedman Graham in teaching at Northwestern University's J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management. In 2000 she was presented with the National Book Foundation's 50th anniversary gold medal for all that Oprah's Book Club has done for books and authors. In 2014 Oprah released What I Know for Sure, a collection of essays that she had written for her monthly column of the same name in O, The Oprah Magazine.