No matter how many millions of records John Tesh sells, I’ll always think of him first as co-host of TV’s Entertainment Tonight. When I was a kid, I was mildly jealous of his nightly perch next to Mary Hart.
You may first think of Tesh as a musician. The Grammy winner has been creating and performing music full-time for over twenty years. His Live At Red Rocks PBS special out-performed The Three Tenors for years.
You may know Tesh as an acclaimed radio host and podcaster.
You will soon know him as a best-selling writer, as his long-awaited memoir is due in March. Tesh’s Relentless: Living a Life Of Persistence, Grit, and Faith will share his keys to surviving a rare form of a rigorous, often terminal cancer.
I will now always think of Tesh as a really nice guy. As I spoke with him about his upcoming return engagement at the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto, California, he took a minute, paused the interview, and said a prayer for my brother, who at the time was hospitalized and in critical condition.
In that moment, Tesh didn’t care about selling tickets to a concert, which was why we were speaking in the first place. He cared about helping a new friend. In fact, he ended the conversation with “Take care of your brother.”
But you probably don’t — and I certainly didn’t — think of Tesh as Oprah Winfrey’s ex-boyfriend.
Tesh pre-dates Stedman Graham, O’s longtime beau. Tesh and the Queen Of All Media dated when they were cub reporters for rival television stations in Nashville in the mid-1970s, a full decade before Winfrey’s career took off with The Color Purple, her nationally syndicated, eponymous daytime talk show, and the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).
After learning about that courtship, I found myself more than mildly jealous of Tesh!
“She was 19 and I was 21, and she was at Channel 5 and I was at Channel 4,” Tesh recalled during our EXCLUSIVE interview. “We were always looking out for each other. We covered the same stuff, mostly city hall stuff or fires, things like that. There was not much happening in Nashville back in the day!”
“We would go out to lunch and go to movies together, and we’d have dinner,” Tesh continued. “Sadly, we had a joke about this.”
“It was 1974, and we would go to a restaurant and people would leave the restaurant because it was a white guy and a black woman. And of course, Oprah had the most amazing sense of humor. She would say ‘Hey, what restaurant are we going to empty today?’ And I’d say ‘Hey, yeah, let’s clear out a restaurant!’ She was never militant about the racial problems that existed in Nashville at the time.”
“Of course, Nashville has evolved since that time. And Oprah has remained a friend.”
Tesh also told me that Winfrey’s gifts of connecting with her audience and finding the story in the seemingly mundane were evident even then.
“Again, there really was no real news in Nashville, and this was right when live minicam stuff was happening, and when live [local television] was really starting to happen in markets like Nashville and St. Louis,” Tesh explained. “We were both doing hour long newscasts, and Channel 5 would send Oprah out there and she could do a half hour on the air — on nothing! And it would be the most entertaining thing you’d ever seen!”
“When I saw that, I was like ‘Who can do that?’ “ And sure enough, nobody can but her!”
Check out more of my interview with John Tesh in the December 2019 issue of The Gallo Center Magazine.
Get tickets to Tesh’s Acoustic Christmas at the Gallo Center.
Look for Tesh’s new memoir, Relentless: Living A Life Of Persistence, Grit, and Faith, in March of 2020.