Inside Oprah’s Super Soul Gospel Brunch
In the Old Testament, the Promised Land was a place God agreed to give to the newly freed descendants of Abram. In Negro Spirituals, it was a place free from slavery and oppression—if not on earth, then in Heaven. For Oprah Winfrey, descendant of enslaved people and daughter of rural Mississippi, it is the name of her own immaculately manicured 65-acre estate in Montecito, California. And Guideposts.org is there.
“I don’t do this, ever,” Oprah Winfrey tells the handful of us journalists gathered in a circle around her at a wooden table, under the shade of full-grown pines and oaks. She is emphasizing the rarity of allowing a group of journalists and about 300 celebrity friends, collaborators and guests to come to her home.
It is a Sunday morning and we’ve all just journeyed via golf carts into her estate. The uphill ride from a staff parking lot, through wrought iron gates, revealed majestic views in all directions: mountains, streams, fountains and even the Santa Barbara coast was visible in the distance if you peaked through her palm trees. Contrasting with the smog-filled Los Angeles just 2 hours to the south, the air in The Promised Land is noticeably sweet with eucalyptus and pleasantly breezy on an eighty-degree day. Other than the sound of gravel crunching beneath golf cart tires, we are wrapped in a comforting stillness.
The significance of Oprah’s home goes far beyond its sensory beauty. This is the property of a Black woman born into poverty to a single mother in the Jim Crow South. This is the palatial estate of a woman who has endured tragedy, abuse, racism, sexism and more to become the first Black billionaire in North America and a notable philanthropist. This is the milk-and-honey land of a human being who has achieved the extraordinary, revolutionized the talk show format and introduced millions of people around the world to ways in which they can deepen their relationship with God, spirit and self. It’s a dream, fulfilled. And she’s inviting us into it.
So we find ourselves down a narrow cul-de-sac, just off of one of her guest houses, seated in an area that her staff has nicknamed The Secret Garden. The exceptional event she’s invited us all here to celebrate is the launch of her latest book, The Wisdom of Sundays. It’s a collection of life-changing insights she’s gained from conversations on her Emmy-Award winning show Super Soul Sunday. It’s a book launch party with the Oprah treatment: an experience for the soul.
She’s planned a stirring gospel concert at her on-property amphitheater, headlined by gospel pioneer BeBe Winans, and a delicious soul food brunch prepared by acclaimed chef Art Smith.
Colin Cowie, who produced her famous 2005 Legends Ball weekend, returned to produce the Wisdom of Sundays Gospel Brunch, with no detail left to chance. Mauve roses in full bloom decorate the tables and match the floor-length gown with a bedazzled belt that Ms. Winfrey wears. The napkins are embroidered with inspirational quotes from the new book.
“Your life is always speaking to you,” reads a gold-lettered Oprah quote against a white cocktail napkin. “The fundamental spiritual question is: Will you listen?”
“Whenever I really, really, really believe that something is going to be impactful, I try to put everything I have into making that possible,” she says of forgoing the traditional book tour in favor of the fête. “And so, inviting people into my home, which I don’t do, is what I decided to do.”
After our inspiring chat (which you can read here), celebrity guests like, Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, Julia Roberts, Reese Witherspoon, Kerry Washington, Angela Bassett, Arianna Huffington, George Lucas and Guideposts cover stars Courtney B. Vance, DeVon Franklin, Meagan Good, Roma Downey and more, shuffle into the amphitheater and sit on cushion-covered stone seats for the gospel extravaganza.
Winans, whom she introduces as “my favorite musical director,” Donald Lawrence and the Tri-City Singers usher in Sunday morning praise and worship with the gospel anthem “I Am Healed.”
As Oprah promised, “The Winans family and BeBe, they know some music.”
There’s not a dry eye in the arena when Emily David, a survivor of Hurricane Harvey whom Oprah supported after the America’s Got Talent contestant lost everything in the floods, sings “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”—or when Tony-winner Cynthia Erivo sings the classic, “Stand,” followed by Oprah’s favorite song, “I Surrender All.” Singer Andra Day performs her inspirational hit “Rise,” and icons Yolanda Adams and Erica Campbell join the hallelujah ensemble to close out the concert with the Mary Mary hit, “Thank You, Lord.”
“I want to do something that launches this book into the world in a way that leaves the people who were a part of it [uplifted],” she says. If the laughter, full bellies and tears of joy from her guests throughout the day are any indication, it’s an intention that she’s fulfilled.