In celebration of Black History Month, the Academy of Achievement presents a host of outstanding
African American leaders in the arts, sciences, business, sports and public service. Among the
most honored and admired men and women of our times, they include heroes of the Civil Rights
movement, trailblazing athletes, brilliant musicians, a pioneering neurosurgeon, a Secretary of
State, Pulitzer Prize playwrights, a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and a President of the
United States. Their words, their music and their stories will enlighten and inspire you to realize the
potential that lies within us all.
Note: A subset of these tracks is available in SD and HD video. Select SD or HD from the menu on the left to visit the other formats.
What It Takes
What It Takes is a podcast series 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. Subscribe to the What It Takes podcast series at iTunes.com/WhatItTakes
Andrew Young (Audio)
Andrew Young was the pastor of a small country church when he faced down the Ku Klux Klan to organize a voter registration drive in South Georgia. He became the leading negotiator for the national Civil Rights Movement, enduring death threats, beatings and jail time to win for African Americans the rights of full citizenship they were promised by the Constitution, rights they had been long denied. Alongside his friend, Martin Luther King, Jr., he marched through the most dramatic episodes of the great struggle: from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to the streets of Birmingham and Selma, and finally to Memphis, where an assassin's bullet ended Dr King's life.
Young fought on, winning election to the United States House of Representatives, as the first African American to be elected to Congress from the Deep South since Reconstruction. As a Congressman, he supported a little-known former Governor of Georgia in his long-shot bid for the Presidency, and when Jimmy Carter became President, he named Andrew Young to serve as his country's Ambassador to the United Nations. At the UN, Andrew Young maintained his commitment to universal human rights, plunging into the most challenging controversies of the day, including the liberation struggles of Southern Africa and the search for peace in the Middle East.
He capped his career in public service with two terms as Mayor of Atlanta, Georgia. Once again, he proved himself an able negotiator, balancing the interests of the business community with the needs of the city's poorest citizens, completing the city's transformation from a battleground of the Civil Rights era to the proud showplace of the modern South. Half a century after the battles of the 1960s, Andrew Young remains an outspoken champion for the rights of all mankind.
Aretha Franklin Interview & Live Performance (Audio)(2012)
Aretha Franklin is known the world over as the Queen of Soul Music. In the 1960s, her hit recording "Respect" became an anthem of the civil rights struggle and a theme song for the dawning women's movement.
He musical career began in the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan, where her father, Rev. C.L. Franklin was the pastor. Young Aretha sang and played piano, and the passion of Gospel music has remained with her through her subsequent triumphs in secular blues, rock and pop. Franklin began recording when she was only 14. At 19, had won a solos contract with Columbia Records. Columbia tried to promote her as a conventionally smooth pop singer, but Aretha's talent was too volcanic to be contained by the old formulas. In 1966, she moved to Atlantic Records, where she recorded the stirring performances that made her world-famous. Her rendition of songs like "Think," "Chain of Fools, and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" set the standard by which singing in the soul idiom will always be measured. Her breakthrough album was 1967's I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, a Top 40 smash. She continued to deliver hit albums decade after decade, including Amazing Grace (1972) and Who's Zoomin' Who? (1985) and her 1998 effort A Rose is Still a Rose.
Since 1961, she has scored a total of 45 "Top 40" hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and 20 number one hits on the R&B charts. She has recorded 14 million-selling singles, the record for a female artist. Between 1967 and 1982 she had 10 number one albums on the R&B charts, another record for a female artist.
She sang at the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King, and at the inaugurations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. She has won 18 Grammy Awards and was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Despite her international fame, she has always returned to her home town of Detroit. The legislature of Michigan has declared Aretha Franklin's voice to be one of the state's natural resources. All Americans can claim her as a national treasure.
This podcast was recorded during a performance at the 2012 International Achievement Summit in Washington, D.C. It includes a rendition of her signature song "Respect," as well as rare interview footage recorded during the Summit.
Audra McDonald (Audio)
Audra McDonald is unparalleled in the breadth and versatility of her artistry as both singer and actress. With a record-setting six Tony Awards, two Grammy Awards, and a long list of other accolades to her name, she is among today's most highly regarded performers. Blessed with a luminous soprano voice and an incomparable gift for dramatic truth-telling, she is equally at home on Broadway and opera stages as in roles on film and television. In addition to her theatrical work, she maintains a major career as a concert and recording artist, regularly appearing on the great stages of the world. Audra McDonald was inducted into the Academy of Achievement in 2012. In this podcast, recorded on that occasion at the Academy's Washington, D.C. headquarters, she sings a few of her favorite songs, including 'Summertime' and 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow.' The podcast also includes highlights of an exclusive interview with Audra McDonald.
This autumn, Natasha Trethewey took up her duties as
United States Poet Laureate, the 19th poet to serve since Congress created the
position in 1985. Also known as the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the
Library of Congress, the Laureate is responsible for all the public poetry programs
of the Library, as well as an annual lecture and reading.
With her appointment as Poet Laureate, Trethewey crowns a career steeped in the
complexities of American history. The marriage of her white, Canadian-born father
and her African American mother was still illegal in Mississippi, where she was
born, on Confederate Memorial Day, in 1966, although the Supreme Court
legalized interracial marriage the following year. Her parents divorced when she
was young; she grew up with her mother in Georgia, spending summers with her
grandmother in Mississippi and her father in New Orleans. When Natasha was 19,
her mother was murdered by her second husband. In Trethewey’s words, “I turned
to poetry to make sense of what had happened.”
Trethewey’s poetry is unique for the manner in which she fuses historical materials
and vernacular language with traditional verse forms. In Bellocq’s Ophelia, she
imagines the inner life of an anonymous prostitute immortalized by the New
Orleans photographer E.J. Bellocq. In 2007, she received the Pulitzer Prize for her
book Native Guard, a verse narrative inspired by a black regiment of the Union
Army during the Civil War.
Jessye Norman Interview
One of the most distinguished musical artists of our time, the singer Jessye Norman was born in Augusta, Georgia. As a ten-year-old child, she was spellbound by a recording of the great contralto Marian Anderson. Inspired by Anderson's recordings and autobiography, she resolved to become a classical singer herself. At age 16, she won a full scholarship to study voice at Howard University. After graduate music studies at Peabody Conservatory, she went to Europe, where she was soon discovered by the Continent's leading conductors and impresarios. She made her operatic debut in Tannhauser at Berlin's Deutsche Oper. A dramatic soprano with a special affinity for the German repertoire, she has won acclaim in the operas of Wagner and Richard Strauss. Equally at home in French and Italian, she has enchanted audiences as Bizet's Carmen and as Mozart's Countess Almaviva. In addition to her concert roles. Her recitals and recordings have included American spirituals, French chansons and German lieder. From Haydn to Mahler to Schoenberg and Berg, from Satie and Poulenc to Gershwin and Bernstein, the range of Jessye Norman’s musical reach is breathtaking. She has conquered stages from Lincoln Center to Covent Garden, Carnegie Hall to the Musikverein, from La Scala to the Paris Opera and the Vienna State Opera, from Tokyo to San Francisco, Houston and Boston, from Granada to Graz and from Salzburg to Hong Kong. For the opening night of the Metropolitan Opera's centennial season, she made history by singing the roles of both Cassandra and Dido in Les Troyens by Hector Berlioz. In 1989, she was chosen to embody the spirit of liberty, equality and fraternity, singing "La Marseillaise" during the bicentennial celebration of the French Revolution at the Place de la Concorde in Paris. Jessye Norman was interviewed by the Academy of Achievement in Washington, D.C. on July 22, 2012. This podcast presents excerpts from that interview, along with selections for her performance at Washington's historic Ford's Theatre on October 18, 2011.