A Classical Music Rock Star

Gustavo Dudamel

By the time he was thirty years old, world-famous conductor Gustavo Dudamel had been called “the lightning conductor” who could turn a solid old symphony into “molten lava.” Today, part of his long term plan is to recreate the youth orchestra program for street youth that has been so successful in his native Venezuela. 

When it comes to classical music, Gustavo Dudamel is a total rock star. At age thirty, he was (by far) the youngest conductor of a major orchestra anywhere in the world. With his wild hair, all-consuming passion, and lively sense of humor, he is also one of the most popular.

Gustavo was a musical genius as a child, and began winning international conducting prizes when he was barely out of high school. But what has always been extraordinary about Gustavo Dudamel is not only his talent, but the way he has chosen to use that gift to improve the world.

As of this writing, as well as being in his twelfth year as music director of the Venezuelan Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra, Dudamel is also in his second season as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. With his global reputation, he could have chosen to work with any orchestra in the world, but he chose the Los Angeles Philharmonic: and he did it for a very specific reason.

Dudamel, who came from a musical family in Venezuela, had his talent recognized and supported by “El Sistema” (The System)—a revolutionary music-training program in his home country that introduces poor kids, some of them street kids, to the discipline and self-esteem of great musicianship. Recognizing how The System changed his life, Dudamel decided to introduce the program to the United States, and the hard streets of Los Angeles were a perfect place to start. So, as part of his contract with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel insisted on being given the money and time to start a youth orchestra.

The Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles gives poor and street youth a new focus in their lives and a new sense of accomplishment as they play to sold-out audiences at venues like the famous Hollywood Bowl. As well, Dudamel’s vision of spreading the idea across the U.S. is beginning to be realized, with new community and city youth orchestras being formed in several American cities.

Dudamel’s long-term dream is to see The System become as popular in other countries as it is in Venezuela, where 600 youth orchestras help a quarter of a million children stay out of trouble, develop self-discipline, and learn to believe in themselves.

Gustavo Dudamel knows firsthand that music can help change the lives of children and youth, and improve the society they live in.

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This is an excerpt from the book Inspiration to Live Your MAGIC!™, 75 Inspiring Biographies by Larry Anderson. It is available as a print book from Amazon.com and as a Kindle e-book.

A Freedom Won by Peter Rabbit

Beatrix Potter

Storyteller, illustrator, nature lover, and self-taught nature expert, Beatrix Potter went from leading an extremely isolated life to becoming a famous and wealthy writer and illustrator of children’s books. 

If Beatrix Potter’s parents had let her go to university, as she so badly wanted to do, she might be remembered today as one of the world’s great experts on mushrooms. Instead, she became one of the bestselling children’s authors of all time.

Beatrix’s family was wealthy, but very strict with their daughter. She was raised away from other children, with private tutors teaching her at remote country estates in England. Her parents were determined to keep her at home for the rest of her life, to be their housekeeper and care for them in their old age.

But Beatrix had dreams. She loved nature and all plants and animals, particularly rabbits, and kept many kinds of creatures as pets. She was also an excellent artist who could create detailed and realistic paintings and drawings. Above all, Beatrix had a great imagination, and loved to read and tell stories.

Living such an isolated life, Beatrix became a nature expert, particularly with regard to plants and fungi. With her great artistic talents, she could draw amazing illustrations of mushrooms that earned her respect among naturalists.

The young woman thought she might have a future as a botanist, studying plants, but her parents wouldn’t let her pursue a career, and few scientists in the 1800s would have ever taken a woman seriously.

Beatrix felt trapped in her parents’ life until someone pointed a way out. Beatrix had written letters to her last governess’s five-year-old son. In the letters, Beatrix had made up adventure stories about rabbits and other creatures that she loved.

The former governess thought the stories were wonderful, and encouraged Beatrix to turn them into a children’s book. Writing the story and doing her own illustrations, Beatrix Potter created The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Although one publisher after another turned the idea down, Potter would not give up her dream of achievement and independence.

After years of trying, The Tale of Peter Rabbit was finally published. It was a big hit, and so were the books that followed. Characters like Squirrel Nutkin, Jemima Puddle-Duck, and the Flopsy Bunnies became favorites for children across England.

Potter earned enough money to leave home and live her own life. She married, bought a huge farm, and raised as many animals as she liked. Her more than twenty popular children’s books made her wealthy and famous, but it was her hard-earned independence that Beatrix Potter treasured most.

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This is an excerpt from the book Inspiration to Live Your MAGIC!™, 75 Inspiring Biographies by Larry Anderson. It is available as a print book from Amazon.com and as a Kindle e-book.

The Man Who Didn’t Like His Obituary

 

Alfred Nobel

Can you imagine reading your own obituary in the newspaper? What would people say about you? Alfred Nobel got the chance to read his own death notice, and he didn’t like what he saw. 

Alfred Nobel was a very wealthy and successful man. He had become an expert in chemistry and invented three of the most commonly used explosives in the world—dynamite, gelignite (used in mining) and ballistite, which is still used as a rocket propellant today.

With the huge fortune he made from these inventions, Nobel bought an engineering company called Bofors and turned it into an arms manufacturer. He made another enormous fortune designing cannons and guns and selling them around the world.

Then, in 1888, Alfred’s brother died while visiting France. A French newspaper thought it was Alfred who had died and they published an obituary that began like this:

THE MERCHANT OF DEATH IS DEAD

Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday….

Alfred Nobel was shocked. Was this what people thought of him? Was this the legacy he would leave to the world? That’s when he decided to use his vast wealth to make a positive difference.

Nobel set up a foundation with $250 million dollars in funding. Every year the foundation would consult the leading experts in the world and hand out prizes to people who had made great contributions to humanity. There would be prizes for sciences, for literature, and for promoting peace.

Today the Nobel Prizes are probably the best-known and most prestigious awards in the world. They have been awarded to great scientists, authors and activists and helped draw attention to many outstanding works and worthy causes.

Nobel set up his foundation in 1895: just in time to influence his own obituary. He died only a year later.

The Nobel Prizes accomplished his wish; they created a very different legacy for him than a reputation as “The Merchant of Death.” He is not remembered as an explosives inventor or arms dealer, but as one of the greatest philanthropists of all time.

He is also a great example of how it is never too late to change your life and help make the world a better place.

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This is an excerpt from the book Inspiration to Live Your MAGIC!™, 75 Inspiring Biographies by Larry Anderson. It is available as a print book from Amazon.com and as a Kindle e-book.

A Peaceful Courageous Warrior

 

 

Wangari Maathai

Some people, by their nature, ignore the status quo and ignore the odds, and go where no one has gone before. They are peaceful but courageous warriors.

Wangari Maathai was the first woman to do a lot of things: she was the first woman from East Africa to earn a PhD, the first woman to head up a department at the University of Nairobi, and the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

As a girl in a poor country, Wangari had to work against the odds to achieve these things, but she was never the kind of person to let high odds hold her back. By the mid-1970s, Wangari Maathai was a professor of anatomy, head of the Kenyan Red Cross, and involved in a number of charities and causes. But she was about to get a great idea….

Dr. Maathai could see that Kenya had two major problems—its natural environment was in bad shape, mostly due to too many trees being cut down, and there were so few jobs that many families were struggling or even starving.

Her idea was simple but brilliant: solve both problems at once by hiring unemployed people to plant more trees! This straightforward plan grew into a whole campaign to teach the people of Kenya to understand and respect the environment and each other. She called it the Green Belt Movement.

Although she went through a lot of hard times and struggled with opposition from the Kenyan government, Wangari Maathai managed to keep the Green Belt Movement alive. Then, in 1985, the United Nations held an environmental conference in Kenya, and representatives from many nations were able to see and hear what she was doing. That’s when the Green Belt Movement really took off, spreading across Kenya and Africa, and serving as a role model for many nations.

Over the years, Dr. Maathai’s group began to stand for other issues as well as the environment—issues like democracy and justice. Kenya only allowed one political party to exist, and tried to deny or stifle anyone who protested or pointed out problems.

Throughout the 1990s, Wangari Maathai and her supporters fought for broader democracy. She was threatened, arrested, beaten, and jailed—but never silenced. It took more than a decade of struggle, but finally Kenya had democratic elections with many parties represented.

Dr. Maathai was eventually elected to the national parliament, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, and planted a tree with Barack Obama. Today, she continues to work for the causes she is known for—people and the environment.

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This is an excerpt from the book Inspiration to Live Your MAGIC!™, 75 Inspiring Biographies by Larry Anderson. It is available as a print book from Amazon.com and as a Kindle e-book.

The Man of the Sea

Jacques Cousteau

Famous for his award-winning underwater films, television shows, and books that gave the world a view of life under the ocean, ecologist Jacques Cousteau was also a talented inventor and dedicated environmental activist.

Naval officer, explorer, ecologist, filmmaker, innovator, scientist, photographer, author, researcher . . . you could go on for pages about all of the things Jacques Cousteau did with his remarkable life!

Many people outside France don’t know that Costeau was a war hero; he led daring commando operations inside occupied France during World War II. And many may not know that he helped invent the modern aqualung—the SCUBA system that’s used around the world.

Most people remember Jacques Cousteau for his amazing films, television shows, and books about the ocean. On board his ship Calypso, Cousteau and his crew traveled the world to film their documentaries about the life that teems beneath the surface of the water.

In the 1950s and 60s, Cousteau’s films marked the first time the majority of people had ever seen footage of undersea life in its natural state. And it was the first time that the general public heard about the dangers of pollution, overfishing, habitat destruction, and other threats to the natural world.

Jacques Cousteau is credited with being one of the first popular ecologists, inspiring a whole generation of young people to be more aware of their environment.

His long career (Cousteau lived to age eighty-seven) contained many other amazing achievements:

  • The first underwater archaeology operation using autonomous diving;
  • Discovering how porpoises use natural sonar to guide themselves;
  • Winning the top prize at the world-famous Cannes Film Festival for his documentary The Silent World;
  • Organizing a successful campaign to stop the dumping of nuclear waste in the oceans; and
  • Winning a long list of awards and medals from grateful nations and organizations around the world.

Through more than 120 television documentaries and fifty books, Cousteau helped make science and nature popular topics for everyday people, and he left a legacy that carries on his work. The Cousteau Society he founded to protect the environment now has 300,000 members. As rich and famous as he became, Jacques Cousteau always said he was just a man trying to do his bit to help the world. “It takes generosity to discover the whole through others,” he said. “If you realize you are only a violin, you can open yourself up to the world by playing your role in the concert.”

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This is an excerpt from the book Inspiration to Live Your MAGIC!™, 75 Inspiring Biographies by Larry Anderson. It is available as a print book from Amazon.com and as a Kindle e-book.

Very Popular Mayor for Over Thirty Years

Hazel McCallion

Not only has Hazel McCallion been the highly popular mayor of Mississauga for an unheard-of thirty-three years, in the most recent election, she received more than seventy-five percent of the votes. 

A lot of things have changed in Mississauga, Ontario since 1978. It has grown from a collection of small towns and villages to the sixth-largest city in Canada. But one thing has not changed since 1978—Hazel McCallion is still the mayor! After more than three decades, she is one of the longest-serving and most popular politicians Canada has ever known.

Hazel was born to a poor family in rural Quebec that couldn’t afford to send their bright daughter to university. She became a secretary instead, determined to earn her own way. Hazel didn’t mind hard work and was ready to make the best of any challenge.

After being transferred to a job in Toronto, Hazel married a man she’d met at church, and one of their wedding presents changed her life—and Canadian politics—forever. The present was a small plot of land in a little town called Streetsville, not far from Toronto.

At the time that Hazel McCallion and her husband settled in Streetsville, the area was growing rapidly. Together, they started a small newspaper and became involved in local issues. It wasn’t long before McCallion, with her keen mind and tremendous energy, was a real force in local politics. By the time that Streetsville and other towns in the area were put together to form the new city of Mississauga, Hazel McCallion was ready to run for mayor.

She not only won that first election, she has won every single election since—a remarkable string of twelve consecutive elections. McCallion became so popular that she really didn’t need to campaign, and she asked people to donate money to charity rather than to her election fund!

Running the city—in her words—“like a business” has made Mississauga one of the few debt-free cities in Canada. Her effective management and plainspoken style has kept voters loyal to her for over thirty-three years. In the most recent election—in 2010—she received more than three quarters of the votes.

Over the years, McCallion has been called a heroine for her roles in safely evacuating the city after a massive train derailment and explosion in 1979, for talking down an armed man in 2006, and for her relentless work in getting more funding and jobs for her city.

While her strong personality has at times gotten her into trouble and earned her the nickname “Hurricane Hazel,” the Mississauga mayor has also been honored with the Order of Canada and voted as one of the top mayors in the world.

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This is an excerpt from the book Inspiration to Live Your MAGIC!™, 75 Inspiring Biographies by Larry Anderson. It is available as a print book from Amazon.com and as a Kindle e-book.

 

He Invented Braille for The Blind

Louis Braille

Blind from age three, Louis Braille learned to read at a school for the blind in Paris where, at that time, books for the blind could weigh as much as a hundred pounds! Inspired by the indented dots on dice, he invented the Braille system of reading and writing, now available in every language in the world.

In 1812, a three-year-old boy was playing in his father’s leather workshop in Coupvray, France when he had an accident that would change the world. Louis Braille accidentally poked himself in the eye with an awl: The metal point blinded him in one eye and an infection soon left him totally blind.

Louis was a bright boy and won a scholarship to a school for the blind in Paris. It was not a particularly nice place; students were often fed bread and water and locked up for punishment. Louis and the other blind children were taught various skills (Louis became expert at playing the organ and cello), and they were taught to read. At that time, books for the blind used raised letters with metal wires under the paper, and some of the books weighed one hundred pounds!

One day, a soldier visited the school and talked about a code system that he had invented in the French army. It used raised dots and dashes on a piece of paper to allow soldiers to send each other messages in the dark while remaining silent.

Louis and the other children found the system too confusing, but the basic idea stuck in the boy’s head. He began experimenting with different ways of creating a language using raised dots on paper—and for this, he used the same awl that had blinded him!

One day, Louis Braille happened to pick up a pair of dice and feel the six dots on one side. That’s when inspiration struck him. He soon developed a code for each letter of the alphabet, with numbers and symbols like periods and question marks, all using no more than six dots.

One great advantage of his system was that you could read each letter or symbol using the tip of your finger. With practice, a reader could run his finger along a line and read very quickly. The other big plus was that blind people using Braille’s system could write as well as read. His system opened up a whole new world!

It took many years for the Braille system to take off, and its popularity was still spreading when Louis died in 1852. Not many people can say that they invented an entire new system of reading and writing, but Louis Braille did. What’s more, his system was adopted around the world, and today is available in virtually every language that humans speak.

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This is an excerpt from the book Inspiration to Live Your MAGIC!™, 75 Inspiring Biographies by Larry Anderson. It is available as a print book from Amazon.com and as a Kindle e-book.

Advocate for Freedom, Equality & Justice

Michaëlle Jean

Michaëlle Jean has had a variety of interesting roles in her life. Compassionate and caring, she has always used them to support her advocacy for freedom, equality, and justice.

The year 1968 was a dangerous and frightening time to live in Haiti. Dictator François Duvalier was jailing and torturing anyone who spoke out against his brutal government.

Many victims and their families tried to escape, and a lucky few made it to Canada. That’s how a little girl named Michaëlle Jean wound up in the small Quebec town of Thetford Mines.

She grew into a beautiful, well-educated woman who could speak half a dozen languages. Although Jean now enjoyed a peaceful, prosperous life, she never forgot the suffering she had seen—her father tortured, poor people oppressed, women and children brutalized.

So Michaëlle Jean worked at a women’s shelter and with new immigrants to Canada, helping others improve their lives. She began a successful career as a radio/TV broadcaster and filmmaker, and used her position there to shine a light on injustice and suffering around the world.

As she worked to build a network of women’s shelters across Canada and write about the hardships of immigrant women, Jean used her remarkable brain, but led with her heart. She became known for her sympathy for anyone fighting on the side of freedom and equality.

Then, in 2005, her reputation for caring and compassion led to an amazing opportunity; a chance to make an even bigger difference in the world. It came in the form of an invitation from the Government of Canada, asking if Michaëlle Jean—the former immigrant girl from Haiti—would like to be the next governor general!

As the Queen’s official representative in Canada, she met world leaders, hosted important conferences, and traveled the globe as a spokesperson for the nation.

But most importantly, in this position Jean was able to lead and inspire others to follow her example. As governor general, she dedicated herself to breaking down barriers —between French and English, black and white, rich and poor, east and west, north and south.

After her term as governor general came to an end, Michaëlle Jean was chosen by the United Nations to be a special envoy for her homeland of Haiti, giving her a fresh opportunity to help tackle the challenges in that troubled country.

She continues to lead with her heart, lending her voice and energy to care for the underprivileged, and helping to make the world a better, more caring place.

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This is an excerpt from the book Inspiration to Live Your MAGIC!™, 75 Inspiring Biographies by Larry Anderson. It is available as a print book from Amazon.com and as a Kindle e-book.

A Quadriplegic Determined to Walk

Aaron Moser

After a serious accident not only ended Aaron Moser’s junior hockey career but made him a quadriplegic, he created a research foundation dedicated to finding a cure for spinal cord injuries.

Some Canadian patriots get themselves a maple leaf tattoo. Aaron Moser got two maple leafs built into his custom-made wheelchair—the one he used to help carry the Olympic torch.

It was an incredibly proud moment when Moser, who calls himself a “super patriot,” helped carry the torch around the arena at the opening of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. It was also a tribute to him and his courage.

Aaron was only seventeen years old when tragedy struck during a 1998 local junior league hockey game in British Columbia. He was checked into the boards, hit head first, and broke his neck. Aaron’s spinal cord was cut, leaving him a quadriplegic; he has no feeling or movement below his chest.

For Aaron, who was such an athletic and active guy, it was a brutal blow. For his family, it meant adapting their lives and their home to support him, and help him adjust to his new life. It also meant extra expenses.

Aaron Moser’s family, friends, and the entire community pulled together. They set up a trust fund to cover the renovations, equipment, supplies, and other expenses. Soon, the trust fund was swamped with donations—not just from people in the area who knew Aaron, but also from people throughout the world of hockey.

They weren’t just motivated by the tragedy; they were inspired by the way the teenager handled the shocking change to his life. Aaron refused to complain about his fate or to give up hope. He kept insisting that he would work hard enough and long enough to walk again.

The trust fund and Moser’s courage kept attracting donations. After a while, there was enough money not only to help Aaron Moser, but also to set up a foundation in his name—a non-profit group dedicated to helping find a cure for him and others with spinal cord injuries.

Every year, Moser and dedicated volunteers run a golf tournament and other activities to raise money for spinal cord injury research. As of this writing, they have brought in more than $400,000. And every year, they help researchers get a little closer to a cure.

As Moser always says, “I have no doubt that one day I will walk again!”

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This is an excerpt from the book Inspiration to Live Your MAGIC!™, 75 Inspiring Biographies by Larry Anderson. It is available as a print book from Amazon.com and as a Kindle e-book.

Aviation Pioneer & Women’s Advocate

Amelia Earhart

A record-setting aviation pioneer and adventurer, Amelia Earhart was a celebrity and advocate for women’s equality in the early 1900s.

Millie and Pidge were two unusual little girls. Growing up in the 1860s in Kansas, their mother let them run wild like the neighborhood boys—something that just wasn’t done in those days. Millie and her sister became fearless tomboys: climbing trees, collecting bugs, and helping their uncle build a home-made (and very dangerous!) wooden roller coaster.

Full of self-confidence, Amelia (Millie’s real name) grew up determined to do something great with her life. She just didn’t know what it was going to be.

One answer seemed to come during World War I, when Earhart visited her sister in Toronto and ended up volunteering as a nurse at a military hospital. Right after the war, a worldwide flu pandemic killed millions of people in 1918. Earhart kept nursing but got sick herself, and spent nearly a year recovering in the hospital.

Then, something else happened in Toronto that changed Amelia Earhart’s life. She watched one of the first annual air shows at the famous Canadian National Exhibition. The pilot of a biplane swooped down low and flew right over her head. From that moment, she was hooked on airplanes.

Back home in Kansas, Earhart took her first airplane ride and announced that she was going to learn to fly. Working every job she could get, Amelia saved up the money for lessons and became only the sixteenth woman in the world to get her international flying license.

Amelia Earhart became somewhat of a celebrity and set out to promote flying, especially for women. Her fame skyrocketed after she became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, even though she was little more than a passenger.

After that, Earhart started setting her own records. She became the first woman to fly across North America and back, set a new world altitude record, and became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic.

By this time, she was a major star—writing books, making celebrity appearances, and designing her own line of clothes. She used her fame to promote flying as a form of transportation, and constantly worked for equality for women, not just in the air, but in all aspects of life.

Amelia Earhart was one of the most famous people in the world when she disappeared during her greatest adventure—flying around the world. Her fate is still a mystery.

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This is an excerpt from the book Inspiration to Live Your MAGIC!™, 75 Inspiring Biographies by Larry Anderson. It is available as a print book from Amazon.com and as a Kindle e-book.

 

 

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