Oprah Winfrey is one of the most successful and influential people in the world, having hosted and produced, for 25 years until 2011, the longest-running and most-watched talk show in the history of television, The Oprah Winfrey Show—a programme which was watched, at its peak, by upwards of 40 million people each week, was broadcast in over 100 countries, and which made its star, who was born into poverty, a billionaire. Since finding success, Oprah has recalled how The Supremes, and in particular Diana Ross, inspired her to aim higher than she ever thought possible.
“Coloured people on TV! Coloured people on TV! You never saw anything like it in the 1960s – three women of colour who were totally empowered, creative, imaginative … beautiful. Poised. It’s hard to imagine today, but back then such a thing was a true anomaly. As a small, coloured girl, the only influences I had on TV were characters like ‘Buckwheat’. To see the Supremes and know that it was possible to be like them, that black people could do that … Well, I wanted to be Diana … I think every little black girl of my generation wanted to grow up and be Miss Ross.”
Diana Ross went on to be a guest on Oprah’s show three times. In January of 2000, Oprah wrote her idol a short letter of appreciation.
10 January, 2000
I was flipping through the TV over the holiday trying to figure out how to work my satellite gadget and came across an Ed Sullivan special featuring all of the major Supremes performances. I was mesmerized, taken back to a younger self seeing you for the first time and everything that moment held for me—the possibilities for a future beyond poverty to something beautiful. You represented that beauty and more important, hope for me—hope that my life could be better, that I could do better. You were my angel. Please know that I still think of you often and hold you in the light.