What It Takes
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What It Takes is a podcast featuring intimate, revealing conversations with towering figures in almost every field: music, science, sports, politics, film, technology, literature, the military and social justice. These rare interviews have been recorded over the past 25 years by The Academy of Achievement. They offer the life stories and reflections of people who have had a huge impact on the world, and insights you can apply to your own life.

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    Itzhak Perlman: The Gift of Music

    For the past 60 years - ever since he made his American debut at 13 - Itzhak Perlman has made classical music fans swoon. He is not only one of the greatest violinists of all time, but also a charming and passionate champion of the music. On this episode, Perlman talks about falling in love with the violin at the age of 3, contracting polio (and losing use of his legs) at 4, and emigrating from Israel to the United States at 13, after an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. He recalls some of his favorite performances, as well one where he forgot to play an entire movement and had to vamp! And, he talks about why music sometimes moves us to tears.

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    Ernest J. Gaines: Letters of My Ancestors

    Ernest Gaines grew up in the 1930's and 40's on the same Louisiana plantation where his ancestors were once slaves. After he became a successful and celebrated novelist, he returned, bought the land, and lives there even now. The voices he heard as a child, telling stories on the porch or around the fire, are the voices that populate his novels: "A Lesson Before Dying," "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman," "A Gathering of Old Men," and others. In this episode, Gaines describes the path that led him from picking cotton, to falling in love with literature, to writing award-winning novels. At the same time, he shares his profound feelings about the limitations of that success.

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    Esperanza Spalding and Wayne Shorter: Jazz Invention

    Esperanza Spalding - bass player, composer, lyricist and singer - is one of the most exciting artists in contemporary jazz. Wayne Shorter is a legendary saxophonist and composer whose career began in the bebop era of the 1950's, and has continued until today. He began playing with Art Blakey, became part of Miles Davis' groundbreaking quintet, and then formed one of the most influential fusion jazz bands, "Weather Report." Wayne Shorter and Esperanza Spalding are from different jazz eras and from different sides of the country, but they have become friends and artistic soulmates, who share many of the same views about making music and the creative process.

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    Leon Panetta: Decisive Action

    The last time the budget of the United States was balanced - and even had a surplus - Leon Panetta was in charge of it, as Director of the Office of Management & Budget. From the Nixon years through the Obama Administration, Panetta had a large, firm, warm-hearted hand in the government of the United States... leading Congressional committees, OMB, the staff of the White House, the CIA and the Pentagon. You could call him the ultimate public servant. On this episode he shares stories from every period of his government career, and he explains how they were all informed by his experiences growing up the child of Italian immigrants.

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    James Earl Jones: The Voice of Triumph

    When James Earl Jones speaks, his voice reverberates so deeply that you can almost feel it in your own chest. Think Darth Vader. For 60 years now, Jones has been captivating audiences with that voice and with his commanding presence -- on stage and on screen. In this episode, he talks about how he overcame a stutter that silenced him for years. He explains how the radicalism of the 1960's changed the world of acting, and opened the door to his success. And he describes how growing up on a humble farm taught him to treasure contentment over happiness.

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    General Colin Powell: My American Journey

    Colin Powell has worn many hats, among them: Secretary of State, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and National Security Advisor. He was the first African-American to hold each of those positions. When he joined the Army in the 1950's, though, his only ambition was to be a good soldier. It was beyond the realm of possibility for the son of working class Jamaican immigrants to aspire much higher. In this episode, you'll hear Powell's stories about his journey from the South Bronx, to the jungles of Vietnam, to the Jim Crow South, to the highest reaches of government, and about the decades of American history he helped shape.

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    Barbra Streisand and Pat Conroy: The Way We Were

    Barbra Streisand is one of the greatest entertainers of all time. In the early 1990's, she forged an unlikely friendship with novelist Pat Conroy, when they collaborated on the movie version of his book, The Prince of Tides. In this episode, you'll hear wonderful, engaging talks by both of these great artists - about what it took for them to overcome the adversity in their early lives, to achieve greatness.

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    Jeff Bezos: Regret Minimization

    When Jeff Bezos had the idea to start an online bookstore, he was working in a secure job on Wall Street. The internet was still young, and the average person had never made a purchase online. Bezos knew the chances of his company failing were high, but he also knew that if he didn't take the risk, he'd always regret it. More than 20 years later, regrets are off the table. Amazon.com brings in 135 billion dollars in revenue, and Bezos is one of the wealthiest men in the world. Hear him tell stories about the early days, before Amazon transformed the way we shop, read, watch & listen.

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    Louise Glück: Revenge Against Circumstance

    Louise Glück uses simple, unsentimental language in her poems to evoke overwhelming emotions. That rare combination is what has distinguished her as one of America's greatest living poets, for over half a century. In this episode, the Pulitzer Prize-winning, former Poet Laureate of the United States digs into the torment and uncertainty that has hounded her throughout her writing life. She talks about how teaching poetry, which she feared would diminish her art, instead allowed it to flourish. And she describes her obsessive desire to hear music in her ears, and language in her head.

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    Naomi Judd: Dream Chaser

    Naomi Judd's life has had more ups and downs than a rollercoaster. For eight glorious years, she and her daughter Wynonna were the biggest country music sensation of the 1980's, with fourteen number one hits, sold-out stadium tours, and too many rhinestones to count. But Naomi's life before and since has been far from glamorous. In this episode, she talks about her tumultuous early life in small-town Kentucky and her struggles as a young single mom on welfare. She recounts how singing transformed her relationship with Wynonna, and then took them to the heights of the music industry. And she shares how the devastating disease that brought it all crashing down led her to a place of tremendous insight and gratitude.

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