She was christened Maria de la Soledad O'Brien. Her first name follows a Spanish tradition of naming a child for Our Lady of Solitude.
Her parents are a biracial couple. They met at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and married in 1959 when an interracial marriage was still illegal in some places, including Maryland.
"My dad is Australian, but his parents are Irish, hence the surname 'O'Brien'. In fact, everyone keeps asking me "great last name - but what's with the first name?"
Her father, Edward, was a mechanical engineering professor and was originally from Toowoomba, Australia.
Her mother, Estella, is black of Cuban heritage. She emigrated to the U.S. in the 1950's and was a teacher in New York City.
Soledad was raised in Smithtown, a small North Shore town on Long Island, New York. She attended Smithtown High School East.
She has three sisters and two brothers being the fifth child of the six.
They are a Harvard family. Maria, (born 1961), a law professor, went to Harvard as an undergrad. Cecilia, (1962), an attorney, is a Harvard Law grad. Tony, (1963), heads a documents company, and is Harvard and Harvard Law; Estela, (1964), an eye surgeon, graduated Harvard. And the youngest, Orestes, (1968), is an anesthesiologist, who graduated Harvard Medical School.
Soledad attended both Harvard and Radcliffe College, studying English and American Studies and taking a lot of science courses including some summer classes at the State University of NY at Stonybrook "with the crazed notion of becoming a doctor."
She was 21 (a senior) when she left school for a job in news. She returned to Harvard in 2000 while on maternity leave and completed her degree.
"There's not an O'Brien Library at Harvard, but with all our tuitions, there should be. It was not our parents' dream that we go to Harvard. It doesn't seem odd that we all went there. We were all excellent students in high school. We worked hard, and we were very competitive."
Soledad began her broadcasting career in radio doing a medical talk show "Second Opinion" and "Health Week in Review" at KISS-FM in Boston in 1989.
She worked in 1990 as an associate producer and news writer for Eyewitness News "First Edition" at WBZ-TV in Boston.
From 1991 to 1993, she worked for NBC News in New York, where she produced stories exclusively for Chief Health and Science Correspondent Robert Bazell for "NBC Nightly News" and "Today."
In 1993, she joined NBC's KRON television in San Francisco covering local news.
That show also gave her a chance to cover a number of technology issues. Her boss there became the General Manager at Ziff-Davis and she lobbied hard for the anchor spot on a new technology show (The Site) to be launched on the fledgling MSNBC network.