Americans are fascinated with celebrity news. While they were once kept out of the spotlight, African American celebrities whether they are actors, musicians or sports heroes, are incredibly popular. From reality shows based on their lives to black news websites, we cannot get enough black celebrity gossip. Today, it is impossible to not see the incredible power black celebrities have in the world.
When Oprah Winfrey started her career in the 1980s, there were no black news websites and there were no black women hosting their own talk shows. One could argue that her success was viewed by many as a being a long shot. She was given a low rating morning talk show to helm in 1983. That was the year WLS-TV hired her to host their show, “AM Chicago.” This is where her talent was first given its due. Within a few months of taking over, “AM Chicago” had bypassed “Donahue” and was the most popular show in the city.
This is when Oprah was discovered by firm critic Roger Ebert. He was the driving force behind her first nationwide show. “The Oprah Winfrey Show” was given a full hour. The first show aired on September 8, 1986. It can be argued that the world has never been the same. That first year, “The Oprah Winfrey Show” grossed over $125 million with its mix of latest celebrity news, interviews and focus on controversial subjects ranging from sexual abuse to body image. The show ran for 25 seasons.
During that time, Oprah went from being a small time TV host to a global media mogul. She is regarded, by Forbes Magazine, among other sources, as one of the most powerful people on the planet. While her net worth alone puts in her that category, her cultural influence is one that is beyond many of her contemporaries.
Today, Oprah has been joined by other prominent African Americans. Beyonce and Jay Z are widely considered to be the most powerful couple on the planet. Beyonce herself has been reported to be worth more than $450 million. Not only is she one of the most popular and successful female artists on the planet but she has been able to translate her talent and business acumen into political influence. Whether she is performing her hit single “Formation” at the Super Bowl or she is appearing with the “Mothers of the Movement” (mothers of children killed by the police or gun violence) at the Video Music Awards, she has proven herself to be a force to be reckoned with.
Jay Z, Beyonce’s other half, has been reported to be worth about $650 million. That gives the power couple a powerful billion dollars to play with. When his “The Blueprint 3” hit number one on the Billboard 200, it was his 11th record to hit that spot. This sent him past Elvis, whose music was definitely inspired by black culture (even before black news websites), as the solo artist with the most number one albums.
If you are looking at television, it is hard to find a more influential network than Black Entertainment Television (BET). Globally, it reaches into more than 90 million homes. It is a leading provider of black cultural and entertainment programming in the United States and elsewhere. Additionally, it has to be considered the most prominent TV network that specifically targets black audiences in America. Black news websites have little on BET.
What does all of this mean? When you look at the demographic make up of the United States, you will see that black Americans account for 15% (there are more than 45 million black Americans) of the general population. Despite this relatively small percentage, their influence is huge. In July 2011, hip-hop surpassed all other music genres in terms of popularity on Facebook among college students. That month it received 314,540 likes on the social network.
From Mohammad Ali to Colin Kaepernick, from Oprah to Beyonce, the influence and importance of black culture continues to grow. This is a good thing, not just for the fact that it brings diversity to our entertainment and sports arenas but it is also emblematic of changes in our society that bring people together while showcasing our unique talents, qualities and tastes.