Published on March 1st 2010 by Leon Shepherd

The Top 10 Rags to Riches Stories are about ten individuals who overcame adversity and beat the odds that were so heavily stacked against them. With desire and determination, these individuals achieved great success in their lives. All of the individuals listed had to overcome at least one or more of the following hardships; poverty, prejudice, incarceration, and physical and sexual abuse. This top 10 list is based upon of three factors; the amount of adversity each individual had to overcome, the amount of success that each individual has achieved, and how much each individual story has been able to inspire others.


10. Barry White


Barry White (September 12, 1944 – July 4, 2003) was an American record producer and singer-songwriter. White was born Barrence Eugene Carter and grew up in the high-crime areas of South Central Los Angeles. At 17, he was jailed for four months for stealing $30,000 worth of Cadillac tires. After his release, White turned his life around and became a five-time Grammy Award-winner known for his rich bass voice and romantic image. White’s greatest success came in the 1970s as a solo singer. And with his Love Unlimited Orchestra, White crafted many enduring hits, including soul , funk, and disco songs. Worldwide, White had many gold and platinum albums and singles, with combined sales of over 100 million.


9. Snoop Dogg


Calvin Broadus better known by his stage name Snoop Dogg, is a Grammy Award-nominated American rapper, record producer and actor. Snoop Dogg was a Crip gang member while in high school. Shortly after graduation, he was arrested for cocaine possession and sentenced to three years in prison. His music career began in 1992 after his release when he was discovered by Dr .Dre. He collaborated on several tracks on Dre’s solo debut, The Chronic and on the theme song to the film Deep Cover. Snoop’s debut album, Doggystyle, was released in 1993 under Death Row Records. Doggystyle went quadruple platinum and spawned several hit singles, including “What’s My Name” and “Gin & Juice.” Snoop is rumored to be worth $200 million dollars.


8. Mary J. Blige


Mary Jane Blige also known as Mary J. Blige, is an American recording artist, songwriter, singer, and actress. At the age of five, Blige was molested by a family friend. After dropping out of high school, Blige turned to drugs and alcohol. In 1989, she was signed to Uptown Records becoming the company’s youngest and first female artist. A recipient of nine Grammy Awards and many other honors, Blige has recorded eight multi platinum albums. Blige has also received the World Music Legends Award for combining hip hop and soul in the early 90′s. As of 2010, Blige had sold over 49 million records


7. Charles Stanley Dutton


Charles S. Dutton is a stage, film, and television actor and director. He is perhaps best known for starring in the television series Roc (1991–1994). At age 17, Dutton was convicted of manslaughter after stabbing a man to death in a street fight. After serving a seven-and-one-half-year prison term, he was paroled only to return to jail less than two years later for possession of a deadly weapon. While incarcerated, he became involved with theater groups and began to turn his life around. The turning point being when he was assaulted by an ice pick-wielding inmate against whom he refused to retaliate. Today, Dutton continues to be a highly sought after actor in television and movies.


6. James Brown


James Brown (May 3, 1933 – December 25, 2006), was a singer and entertainer. Brown has more honors attached to his name than any other performer in music history. Brown grew up in extreme poverty, and at the age of sixteen, he was convicted of armed robbery and sent to a juvenile detention center for three years. After he was released, Brown turned his life around and concentrated on music. Soon Brown landed a record deal and had one hit after another. Brown, also referred to as “The Godfather of Soul”, was renowned for his vocals, showmanship, and his exciting dancing. He had over 100 hits that made the billboard charts, with 17 of those hits reaching number one. He was also called “the hardest working man in show business”.


5. Madam C.J. Walker


Madam C.J. Walker (December 23, 1867 – May 25, 1919) was an African-American businesswoman, hair care entrepreneur and philanthropist. She was born Sarah Breedlove in Delta, Louisiana, to parents who had been slaves. Breedlove went from the cotton fields of the south, to eventually make her fortune by developing and marketing a hugely successful line of beauty and hair products for black women, under the company she founded, Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company. The Guinness Book of Records cites Walker as the first female who became a millionaire by her own achievements.


4. Chris Gardner


Christopher Paul Gardner is a self-made millionaire, entrepreneur, motivational speaker, and philanthropist who, during the early 1980s, struggled with homelessness while raising his toddler son, Christopher, Jr. In and out of foster care as a child, this entrepreneur, whose net worth is estimated at $65 million, lost his wife, and was homeless on the streets of San Francisco with a young son in the early 1980s. Determined to make it as a stockbroker, he took a position as a trainee at Dean Witter Reynolds. With little money, Gardner and his son slept in parks and public restrooms after Gardner worked as many hours as he could to become the top banker at his firm. Gardner’s personal struggle of establishing himself as a stockbroker while managing fatherhood and homelessness is portrayed in the 2006 motion picture The Pursuit of Happyness, starring Will Smith.


3. Tyler Perry


Tyler Perry is an actor, director, screenwriter, producer, and author. His childhood was far from ideal. In addition to being molested at the age of ten, Perry had a violently abusive father. As a child, Perry once even went so far as to attempt suicide in an effort to escape his father’s beatings. Perry began writing when he was in his 20’s. His determination to succeed as a playwright sustained him through periods of poverty, hunger, and even homelessness. Perry’s films have earned him nearly $400 million worldwide, not including his plays. In 2009, Perry earned around $80 million, placing him just outside the top five highest-paid men in Hollywood.


2. John Johnson


John Harold Johnson (January 19, 1918 – August 8, 2005) was an American businessman and publisher. He was the founder of the Johnson Publishing Company, and in 1982, the first African-American to appear on the Forbes 400. John Harold Johnson was born in rural Arkansas City, Arkansas, the grandson of slaves. In addition to being on welfare, Johnson endured much teasing and taunting at his high school for his ragged clothes and country ways. When Johnson was in his late 20’s, he conceived of a publication called Negro Digest, patterned after Reader’s Digest. In 1951, he launched Jet Magazine. Johnson’s biggest success was Ebony, which in its 40th year of publication had a circulation of 2,300,000 and was the primary reason that Johnson was considered one of the 400 richest individuals in the United States. 


1. Oprah Winfrey


Oprah Gail Winfrey is an American television host, producer, and philanthropist, best known for her self-titled, multi-award winning talk show, which has become the highest-rated program of its kind in history. At the age of nine,Winfrey was molested by her cousin, her uncle, and a family friend. At 13, after suffering years of abuse, Winfrey ran away from home. When she was 14, she became pregnant, but her son died shortly after birth. When Winfrey was 17, she got a job in radio. In 1983, Winfrey relocated Tennessee to Chicago to host WLS-TV’s low-rated half-hour morning talk show, AM Chicago. The first episode aired on January 2, 1984. Within months afterWinfrey took over, the show went from last place in the ratings to overtaking Donahue as the highest rated talk show in Chicago. It was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show. Winfrey has been ranked the richest African American ever, the greatest black philanthropist in American history, and was once the world’s only black billionaire.

Miscellaneous | Comments (11)

11 Responses to “Top 10 Rags To Riches Stories”

  1. Roy Says:

    You hit this one out of the ball park. Outstanding list.

  2. Leon Shepherd Says:

    Thanks Roy. I appreciate the positive feedback.

  3. Joi :-) Says:

    Hey ya’ll! :-) Leon, I agree with Roy. This list is OUTSTANDING!!!! I like that you got “stories” from all walks of life, (altho they are all rags to riches stories). I like that you chose people that are doing “positive” things. I LOVE that you did not have any “athletes” on/in the list! It shows that there are sooooo many (other) ways to obtain “riches”. You’re list shows “ordinary people, doing extraordinary things! Which says…. Sky’s the limit! Keep up the great work Leon! You’re list is EXCELLENT! :-)

  4. Leon Says:

    Thanks Joi! I appreciate your positive feedback.

  5. Trisha Says:

    Great list Leon..BUT…Did you base this on total dollar amount earned so far and what did you measure the struggle they had to overcome by? The one name that jumped into my head (and you know there is plenty of room there..hahaha)was Ray Charles. I don’t know his worth at the time of his death but I know he grew up in poverty,overcam the death of a brother and was blind. To reach musical success with sight is a one in a million shot. Try hurdling poverty when you are blind.

  6. Leon Says:

    I completely agree with you Trisha. When I originally put together this list on paper, Ray Charles was in the top five. But unfortunately, I misplaced my original list & had to start a new list. When I wrote the new list, I inadvertently left Ray off. But yes, he definitely deserves to be on the list. His struggle, coupled with the fact that he was blind, was one of the toughest to overcome of those mentioned on the list.

  7. Terrance Says:

    Great List LEON. Thi list could go on and on,but i like your selections.

  8. Leon Says:

    Thanks Terrance!

  9. Cidne Says:

    Thanks for reminding me of the saying. “Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid,” which is the experience of the people on your list. Great list!

  10. Leon Says:

    You’re very welcome Cidne. And thanks for your positive feedback!

  11. Shonee Says: