She’s been compared to Ethel Merman and to Judy Garland. She’s also been accused of being a diva. Love her or hate her, Barbra Streisand has a voice that has made her one of the greatest singers — and personalities — of her generation.
We know about her unique look, about her fundraising abilities, and about people who need people being the luckiest people in the world.
Born Barbara Joan Streisand on April 24, 1942, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to Diana Rosen and Emanuel Streisand.H er father earned a master’s degree from City College of New York in 1928 and was considered athletic and handsome. As a student, he spent his summers outdoors, once working as a lifeguard and another hitchhiking through Canada. “He’d try anything,” his sister Molly said. “He wasn’t afraid of anything.” He married Ida in 1930, two years after graduating, and became a highly respected educator with a focus on helping underprivileged and delinquent youth. In August 1943, a few months after Streisand’s first birthday, her father died suddenly at age 34 from complications from an epileptic seizure, possibly the result of a head injury years earlier.
Her mother had been a soprano singer in her youth and considered a career in music, but later became a school secretary.Her mother raised Barbra and her older brother, Sheldon, by working full-time there but barely survived on the brink of poverty. They moved in with Barbra’s grandparents to help make ends meet. Her mother Diana remarried in 1949 to Louis Kind, a used-car salesman, while Streisand was away at a Jewish camp. While she was away at camp, Streisand didn’t know about her mother’s second marriage to Kind or that her mother was pregnant. Streisand’s half-sister, Rosalind, was born in 1951.
Streisand has described her childhood as painful. She was shy as a child, and often felt rejected by other children because her looks were unusual. Additionally, she saw her stepfather as emotionally abusive. She also found no support from her mother, who thought her too unattractive to pursue her dreams of show business. As an adult, Streisand remembered those early years as always feeling like an “outcast,” explaining, “Everybody else’s father came home from work at the end of the day. Mine didn’t.
As a child, Streisand attended Bais Yakov School from the age of 5, where she sang in the school choir. Following elementary school, Streisand was a student at Erasmus Hall High School. After leaving the Orthodox School she began watching television and going to movies. In high school Barbra met future collaborator, Neil Diamond when they both sang in the Freshman Chorus and Glee Club. In the late 50s, when she was graduating from Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, she used to have lunch with famous chess grandmaster, Bobby Fischer. She liked him, and has said she thought he was peculiar, she also found him kind of sexy
Even before Barbra graduated from high school, she was traveling to New York City to study acting. At the age of 15, she met Anita and Alan Miller at the Cherry Lane Theater in Greenwich Village. Streisand negotiated a deal with the couple; she would babysit for their children in exchange for a scholarship to Alan’s acting school. It was one of two she simultaneously attended. She graduated from Erasmus High in 1959 at the age of 16. She was fourth in her class.
With the other kids she remembers sitting on the stoop in front of their flat and singing: “I was considered the girl on the block with the good voice.” She made her singing debut at a PTA assembly, where she became a hit to everyone but her mother, who was mostly critical of her daughter.Young Streisand was invited to sing at weddings and summer camp, along with having an unsuccessful audition at MGM records when she was nine.
By the time she was thirteen, her mother began supporting her talent, helping her make a four-song demo tape, including “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart,” and “You’ll Never Know.”
While working office jobs and attending acting lessons, on June 6, 1960, at the urging of a friend, Barbara entered the weekly talent contest at the Lion, a bar in Greenwich Village, where the top prize was $50 plus a one-week booking at the club. Appearing last among four contenders, she gave a soulful rendition of “A Sleeping Bee,” from the short-lived 1954 Harold Arlen musical House of Flowers. The crowd went nuts, and Barbara won the contest. It was the first time she had been paid to sing. She had never taken a singing lesson before. The evening was a resounding success, and she soon embarked on a career as a cabaret singer.
After her success at the Lion, Barbra landed a gig around the corner at another Greenwich Village club known as the Bon Soir where, at $125 a week, she had a three-month stint opening for comedienne Phyllis Diller. The two women shared a dressing room which Diller has described as being “about the size of a pea pod.”
Whether it was due to being thrown together in such cramped quarters or whether Diller’s maternal instincts had kicked in (she had raised five children before embarking on a career in stand-up), she and Barbra became fast friends. She spent a week helping Barbra pick out a gown for her performances instead of the vintage clothing Streisand usually wore — a gown which, unbeknownst to Diller, Streisand later returned. Diller also claims to be the first person to admonish Barbra never, ever to get her nose fixed — advice Barbra took to heart, since she was worried about what a rhinoplasty would do to her voice.
She was born ‘Barbara’, but changed her name…a little bit. She’s been asked about it a lot over the year and says: “Well, I was 18 and I wanted to be unique, but I didn’t want to change my name because that was too false. Let’s see, if I take out the ‘a,’ it’s still ‘Barbara,’ but it’s unique.”
She claims that she learned how to cover her insecurity on stage by studying the flamboyance of the drag queens she met during this time. Still, Streisand is infamous for having avoided live performances for nearly three decades due to a debilitating bout of stage fright. She attributes the phobia to a concert in New York’s Central Park in 1967, during which she forgot the lyrics to one of her songs.
Although she knew her voice was good and she liked the attention, becoming an actress was her main objective. To help achieve that goal, Streisand began spending her spare time in the library, studying the biographies of various stage actresses such as Eleanora Duse and Sarah Bernhardt. In addition, she began reading novels and plays, including some by Shakespeare and Ibsen, and also on her own, studied the acting theories of Stanislavski and Chekhov.
Streisand’s first television appearance was on The Tonight Show, then credited to its usual host Jack Paar. She was seen during an April 1961 episode on which Orson Bean substituted for Paar. She sang Harold Arlen’s “A Sleepin’ Bee” Later in 1961, before she was cast in Another Evening With Harry Stoones, she became a semi-regular on PM East/PM West, a talk/variety series hosted by Mike Wallace and Joyce Davidson.
Streisand made her major debut in the Broadway show, I Can Get it For You Wholesale in 1962. She won the New York Drama Critics Award and received a Tony nomination for her performance; the cast album for that show was her first studio recording. Streisand signed with Columbia Records that same year and released her first album, The Barbra Streisand Album in 1963. It became a Top 10 gold record and received two Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year. At the time, she was the youngest artist to receive the honor.
Despite three successful albums by early 1964, Streisand chose Broadway performances over live concerts. She appeared in the show Funny Girl for more than two years, which earned her a Tony Award nomination. The song “People” from that show became Streisand’s first Top 10 single.
In 1965, Streisand turned to television with My Name is Barbra. The show received five Emmy Awards, and CBS Television awarded Streisand a 10-year contract to produce and star in more TV specials. Streisand was given complete artistic control of the next four network productions.
Streisand reprised her role in Funny Girl in 1966 in London at the Prince of Wales Theater. Two years later she made her big-screen debut in the film version of the play. In addition to winning the 1968 Academy Award for her performance, she won a Golden Globe and was named “Star of the Year ” by the National Association of Theater Owners.
After appearing in the films Hello, Dolly! (1969) and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970), Streisand starred in the non-musical comedy, The Owl and the Pussycat (1970). The year 1972 brought another comedy, What’s Up Doc? The same year Streisand founded her own production company, Barwood Films, and starred in the company’s first project, Up the Sandbox. The film became one of the first American movies to deal with the growing women’s movement.
In the 1970s, Barbra Streisand successfully married her film and musical interests; first with the hit film The Way We Were, which featured her first No. 1 single and earned her a 1973 Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. In 1976 came A Star is Born, a film that Streisand produced. The project won six Golden Globes and offered Streisand her second No. 1 single, “Evergreen.”
Barbra Streisand has been married twice — from 1963 to 1971 to Elliott Gould. Together the couple had one child, who appeared as her on-screen son in The Prince of Tides. and since 1998 to actor James Brolin Her second husband is actor James Brolin, whom she married on July 1, 1998. While they have no children together, Brolin has two children from his first marriage, including actor Josh Brolin, and one child from his second marriage. Strangely enough, both of her husbands, Gould and Brolin, starred in the 1970s conspiracy sci-fi thriller Capricorn One.
She’s been linked romantically with other men as well, most notably co-stars like Omar Sharif and Ryan O’Neal, but also such figures as Richard Baskin, heir to the Baskin-Robbins ice cream fortune. She was also in a relationship with hairstylist-turned-producer Jon Peters for many years.
One of her more unusual pairings was with Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, whom she started seeing in 1969. The affair was quite public — they dined together in New York; she flew up to Ottawa and sat in the visitors’ gallery when Parliament was in session — and became serious enough, according to biographer Christopher Andersen, that Trudeau proposed to her. After giving the matter some consideration, which included, Streisand said, planning to learn French and preparing herself to make all her future movies in Canada, she ultimately rejected the offer. No doubt one issue was the fact that to marry Trudeau she’d have to become a Catholic. Also, her divorce from Gould was not yet final. The Prime Minister seemed to get over her rejection easily enough, though, and went on to marry 19-year-old Margaret Sinclair.
Beginning in 1971, the Nixon White House began compiling a list of political enemies, the purpose of which, according to compiler John Dean, was to use any available Federal machinery to get back at people who disliked Nixon — through IRS audits, denying them Federal funds and so forth.
Originally the list contained only twenty names but was eventually expanded to over 200. Mostly it was a list of politicians, with some labor leaders and a bunch of media people thrown in, as well as some organizations perceived as threatening, such as the Black Panthers. But there were about a dozen celebrities who also made the list, presumably because of their political leanings. The famous names included Paul Newman, Jane Fonda, Carol Channing, Tom Smothers — and Barbra Streisand.
While many people such as Newman and Channing considered being on the list a badge of honor, Streisand was reportedly terrified. It was a far cry from May 1963, when she sang “Happy Days Are Here Again” for President John F. Kennedy at a White House correspondents’ dinner.
One of the nice things about the American system of governance, though, is that its political winds change frequently — the Ins go out and the Outs come in. When Arkansas’ Bill Clinton got elected, Streisand not only was no longer an enemy of the President of the United States; she also became a frequent guest at the White House.
In the late 1970s, Streisand collaborated with former high school choir mate Neil Diamond on the song, “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.” The single went to No. 1, as did “No More Tears (Enough is Enough),” a dance record sung with Donna Summer. But Streisand had her biggest-selling album in 1980 with Guilty, which was written and produced by Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees and contained the No. 1 hit, “Woman in Love.”
Though she read Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short story, “Yentl, The Yeshiva Boy” shortly after her first film in 1968, it was only after 15 years of perseverance that Streisand was able to bring the story to screen. In her 1983 directorial debut, the film received five Academy Award nominations, and Streisand received Golden Globe Awards as both Best Director and producer of the Best Picture (musical comedy). The film also produced a Top 10 soundtrack.
In 1985, The Broadway Album returned Barbra Streisand to the top of the charts. Continuing to integrate all of her talents, in 1987, Streisand followed up Yentl with Nuts. She not only starred in the film, but also produced and wrote the music. For her second directorial outing in 1991, Streisand made the movie Prince of Tides, a story based on the Pat Conroy novel. The film garnered seven Academy Award nominations and a nomination from the Directors Guild of America for her direction, making her only the third woman ever so honored. In 1996, Streisand tried her hand at direction again, with the film The Mirror Has Two Faces.
After a 27-year absence, Barbra Streisand returned to the concert stage in 1994. Her performance resulted in the Top 10, million-selling album, The Concert. The tour itself generated over $10 million for charities, including AIDS organizations, women and children in jeopardy, Jewish/Arab relations, and agencies working to improve relations between African-Americans and Jews. Streisand’s philanthropy and activism also extends to her Barwood Film’s productions, such as The Long Island Incident, which inspired a national debate on gun control.
Streisand is an outspoken Democrat, and has used her talents and fame to support multiple candidates and causes, including Al Gore, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Prior to her 27-year stage absence, Streisand devoted her unpaid live concert performances exclusively to the benefit of the causes she supports. Her Barbra Streisand: One Voice concert has, to date, channeled $7 million in profits to charities through The Streisand Foundation, which continues to occupy much of the artist’s energy and resources.
Most recently, Barbra Streisand recorded the 2000 album, Timeless: Live in Concert at her Las Vegas show on New Years Eve, and released both on CD and DVD. A year later, a new holiday album, Christmas Memories arrived. It was the artist’s first full-length studio album since 1999’s A Love Like Ours. In a sequel to 1985’s The Broadway Album, The Movie Album appeared in 2003. In 2005, a deluxe CD/DVD reissue of the original Guilty was followed a month later by Guilty Pleasures, a new album that reunited Streisand with Barry Gibb. In 2006, she returned to the concert stage, documented in the 2007 Live in Concert. And in a long-awaited return to film, Streisand appeared in 2006’s Meet the Fockers.
Streisand released the albums Love Is the Answer (which reached gold-selling status in the U.S.) and What Matters Most in 2009 and 2011, respectively.
In the fall of 2012, Streisand announced the arrival a new album: Release Me, a collection of unreleased material from several sessions over the course of her career. She followed in 2014 with Partners, an album of duets with a series of acclaimed male artists, including Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel and John Legend. Streisand married for a second time on July 1, 1998, to actor James Brolin. Following their marriage, Streisand recorded an album of love songs entitled A Love Like Ours (1999). The collection featured the hit duet, “If You Ever Leave Me,” with Vince Gill.
The statistics of Barbra Streisand’s achievements are staggering. She is credited for creating dozens of gold- and platinum-selling albums, and is regarded as the top-selling female artist of all time. Streisand has had No. 1 albums in each of the last four decades—the greatest longevity for any solo recording artist. She is second in the all-time charts, ahead of the Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and exceeded by only Elvis Presley.
Streisand has sold approximately 250 million records worldwide, and is the only artist to have earned honors from all the major award institutions, including two Academy Awards, one Tony Award, five Emmys, 10 Grammys, 13 Golden Globes, a CableACE Award, the University of Georgia’s George Foster Peabody Award and the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2015, she was further honored as a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.