Tyler Perry Makes History – & Oprah Is There!

Tyler Perry Makes History – & Oprah Is There!
Will Smith (left) and Tyler Perry
Rick Diamond/Getty

10/05/2008 AT 11:30 AM EDT

History was made Saturday night, when Tyler Perry became the first African-American ever to launch his own major TV and film studio.

But that wasn't the only reason Will Smith was tipping his hat to Perry at the gala Atlanta event in the old Delta Airlines headquarters that now serve as Perry's studio.

"I admire most that he can be that tall and wear a white suit," said Smith, 40, never to waste a punch line. "I usually have to avoid white. At this height, you don't tend to look sexy in white suits, but he pulled it off."

The same could be said when it came to Perry's impressive guest list, which brought out the top names from past and present Hollywood and other spheres of influence: Oprah Winfrey, Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Cicely Tyson, Louis Gossett, Jr., Holly Robinson Peete, Tracey Edmonds, music mogul L.A. Reid, singer John Legend, America's Next Top Model winner Eva Pigford, not to mention baseball legends Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds – among others.

And Oprah Cried

"I spent 56 years making movies and this is the reward that I have that means the most to me," said Poitier, 81, the first African-American to win a Best Actor Oscar, for 1963's Lilies of the Field.

A New Orleans native with a troubled childhood, Perry, 39, credited all of his guests with inspiring his life. Of Winfrey, who attended the celebration with longtime beau Stedman Graham and best friend Gayle King, Perry said, "She owns her life. I am learning that. I never would have shown this to people a few years ago. I was embarrassed by the success."

Tyler Perry Makes History – & Oprah Is There!| Oprah Winfrey, Sidney Poitier

Oprah Winfrey and Sidney Poitier

Rick Diamond / Getty

As a large cast of attendants passed around champagne and tissues for the teary-eyed (who were many), Perry shared his rags-to-riches story over a large video screen that eventually gave way to a live singer and band delivering "The Impossible Dream," followed by a fireworks display. Mary J. Blige, Patti Labelle and Gladys Knight also treated guests to separate performances.

At one point, Perry unveiled a special surprise for veteran trailblazers Poitier, Dee and Tyson: each now has a soundstage named after him and her.

"Is this my wall?" joked Poitier – as Winfrey dissolved into tears.

Tide of Change

All joking aside, it was Will Smith who best summed up Perry's accomplishment and the tide of change taking place in America today.

"This is an American first, and the first in the universe," said the I Am Legend star. "There is something happening in America and in the world that's powerful. He is not letting anyone get in his way.

"Those are the wonderfully naïve, arrogant, humble, powerfully American concepts that make things powerful in this country. It's big."

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