Barbara Joan Streisand was born on April 24, 1942, in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter and second child of Diana (nee Rosen) and Emanuel Streisand. Her mother had been a soprano in her youth and considered a career in music, but later became a school secretary. Her father was a high school teacher at the same school, where they first met. Streisand’s family was Jewish.
In August 1943, a few months after Streisand’s first birthday, her father died at age 34 from complications from an epileptic seizure. The family fell into near-poverty with her mother working as a low-paid bookkeeper.
As an adult, Streisand remembered those early years as always feeling like an “outcast”. Her mother tried to pay their bills but could not give her daughter the attention she craved: “When I wanted love from my mother, she gave me food,” Streisand admits.
Streisand recalls that her mother had a “great voice” and sang semi-professionally on occasion. During a visit to the Catskills when Streisand was 13, she told Rosie O’Donnell, that she and her mother had recorded some songs on tape. That session was the first time Streisand ever asserted herself as an artist, which also became her “first moment of inspiration”.
From her mother’s remarriage to Louis Kind in 1949 she has a half-sister, singer Roslyn Kind.
Streisand began her education at the Jewish Orthodox Yeshiva of Brooklyn when she was five. She was considered bright and inquisitive about everything. However, she lacked discipline, often shouting answers to questions out of turn. She next entered Public School 89 in Brooklyn, and during those early school years began watching television and going to the movies.
Streisand became known in the neighborhood for her voice. She remembers sitting ith the other kids on the stoop in front of their apartment building and singing: “I was considered the girl on the block with the good voice.”
She would often practice her singing in the hallway of her apartment building which gave her voice an echoing quality. Streisand 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.
When she became nine she was invited to sing at weddings and summer camp, along with having an unsuccessful audition at MGM records.
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”.
Becoming an actress was her main goal. That desire was made stronger when she saw her first Broadway play, The Diary of Anne Frank when she was 14. The star in the play was Susan Strasberg, whose acting she wanted to emulate.
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 and studying the acting theories of Konstantin Stanislavski and Michael Chekhov.
She attended Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn in 1956 where she became an honor student in Modern History, English and Spanish. She also joined the Freshman Chorus and Choral Club, where she sang with another choir member and classmate, Neil Diamond.
Diamond recalls, “We were two poor kids in Brooklyn. We hung out in the front of Erasmus High and smoked cigarettes.” The school was near an art-movie house, and he recalls that she was always aware of the films they were showing.
During the summer of 1957, she got her first stage experience as a walk-on at the Playhouse in Malden Bridge, New York. That small part was followed by a role as the kid sister in Picnic and one as a vamp in Desk Set.
In her second year, she took a night job at the Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village helping backstage. When she was a senior, she rehearsed for a small part in Driftwood, a play staged in a midtown attic space, co-starring in with Joan Rivers.
She graduated, aged 16, from Erasmus Hall in January 1959 and despite her mother’s pleas that she stay out of show business, she set out trying to get roles on the New York City stage.
After renting a small apartment on 48th street in the heart of the theater district, she accepted any job she could involving the stage and at every opportunity, she “made the rounds” of the casting offices.
Aged 16 and living on her own, Streisand took various menial jobs to have some income. During one period, she lacked a permanent address and found herself sleeping at the home of friends or anywhere else she could set up the army cot she carried around. When desperate, she returned to her mother’s flat in Brooklyn for a home-cooked meal.
However, her mother was horrified by her daughter’s “gypsy-like lifestyle” and again begged her to give up trying to get into show business. Streisand took her mother’s pleadings as even more reason to keep trying: “My desires were strengthened by wanting to prove to my mother that I could be a star.”
She took a job as an usher at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater for The Sound of Music early in 1960. During the run of the play, she heard that the casting director was auditioning for more singers and it marked the first time she sang in pursuit of a job.
Although the director felt she was not right for the part, he encouraged her to begin including her talent as a singer on her résumé when looking for other work.
She asked her then boyfriend, Barry Dennen, to tape her singing, copies of which she could then give out to possible employers. Dennen found a guitarist to accompany her:
We spent the afternoon taping and the moment I heard the first playback I went insane … This nutty little kook had one of the most breathtaking voices I’d ever heard … when she was finished and I turned off the machine, I needed a long moment before I dared look up at her.
Dennen grew enthusiastic and he convinced her to enter a talent contest at the Lion, a gay nightclub in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. She performed two songs after which there was a “stunned silence” from the audience, followed by “thunderous applause” when she was pronounced the winner.
She was invited back and sang at the club for several weeks. It was during this time that she dropped the second “a” from her first name, switching from “Barbara” to “Barbra”, due to her dislike of her original name.
Streisand was next asked to audition at the Bon Soir nightclub, after which she was signed up at $125 a week. It became her first professional engagement in September 1960, where she was the opening act for comedian Phyllis Diller. She recalls it was the first time she had been in that kind of upscale environment: “I’d never been in a nightclub until I sang in one.”
Dennen now wanted to expose Streisand to his vast record collection of female singers, including Billie Holiday, Mabel Mercer, Ethel Waters, and Édith Piaf. Streisand realized she could still become an actress by first gaining recognition as a singer.
According to biographer Christopher Nickens, hearing other great female singers benefited her style, as she began creating different emotional characters when performing, which gave her singing a greater range.
She improved her stage presence when speaking to the audience between songs. She discovered that her Brooklyn-bred style of humor was received favorably. During the next six months appearing at the club, some began comparing her singing voice to famous names such as Judy Garland, Lena Horne and Fanny Brice.
Her conversational ability to charm an audience with spontaneous humor during performances became more sophisticated and professional.Theater critic Leonard Harris wrote: “She’s twenty; by the time she’s thirty she will have rewritten the record books.”
Streisand accepted her first role on the New York stage in Another Evening with Harry Stoones, a satirical comedy play in which she acted and sang two solos. The show received terrible reviews and closed the next day. With the help of her new personal manager, Martin Erlichman, she had successful shows in Detroit and St. Louis.
Erlichman then booked her at an even more upscale nightclub in Manhattan, the Blue Angel, where she became a bigger hit during the period from 1961 to 1962. Streisand once told Jimmy Fallon, with whom she sang a duet, on the Tonight Show, that Erlichman was a “fantastic manager” and still managed her career after 50 years.
While appearing at the Blue Angel, theater director and playwright Arthur Laurents asked her to audition for a new musical comedy he was directing, I Can Get It for You Wholesale. She got the part of secretary to the lead actor businessman, played by then unknown Elliott Gould.
They fell in love during rehearsals and eventually moved into a small apartment together. The show opened on March 22, 1962, at the Shubert Theater and received rave reviews. Her performance “stopped the show cold”, wrote Nickens. Groucho Marx, while hosting the Tonight Show, told her that twenty was an “extremely young age to be a success on Broadway”.
Streisand received a Tony nomination and New York Drama Critic’s prize for Best Supporting Actress. The show was recorded and made into an album.
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”. During her appearance, Phyllis Diller, also a guest on the show, called her “one of the great singing talents in the world.”
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.
In early 1962 she went into the Columbia Records studio for the cast recording of I Can Get It for You Wholesale. Also that spring she participated in a twenty-fifth anniversary studio recording of Pins and Needles, the classic popular front musical originated in 1937 by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. Reviews of both albums highlighted Streisand’s performances.
In May 1962, Streisand appeared on The Garry Moore Show where she sang “Happy Days Are Here Again” for the first time. Her sad, slow version of the 1930s upbeat Democratic Party theme song became her signature song during this early phase of her career.
Johnny Carson had her on the Tonight Show half a dozen times in 1962 and 1963, and she became a favorite of his television audience and himself personally.
In December 1962, she made the first of a number of appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. She was later a cohost on the Mike Douglas Show and made an impact on a number of Bob Hope specials.
Performing with her on The Ed Sullivan Show was Liberace who became an instant fan of the young singer. Liberace invited her to Las Vegas, Nevada, to perform as his opening act at the Riviera Hotel. Liberace is credited with introducing Barbra to audiences on the West Coast.
The following September during her ongoing shows at Harrah’s Hotel in Lake Tahoe, she and Elliott Gould took time off to get married in Carson City, Nevada. With her career and popularity rising so quickly, she saw her marriage to Gould as a “stabilizing influence.”
Her first album, The Barbra Streisand Album in early 1963, made the top 10 on the Billboard chart and won three Grammy Awards. The album made her the best-selling female vocalist in the country. That summer she also released The Second Barbra Streisand Album, which established her as the “most exciting new personality since Elvis Presley.”
She ended that breakthrough year of 1963 by performing one-night concerts in Indianapolis, San Jose, Chicago, Sacramento, and Los Angeles.
Streisand returned to Broadway in 1964 with an acclaimed performance as entertainer Fanny Brice in Funny Girl at the Winter Garden Theatre. The show introduced two of her signature songs, “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” Because of the play’s overnight success, she appeared on the cover of Time.
In 1966, she repeated her success with Funny Girl in London’s West End at the Prince of Wales Theatre. From 1965 to 1968 she appeared in her first four solo television specials.
Streisand has recorded 50 studio albums, almost all with Columbia Records. Her early works in the 1960s (her debut The Barbra Streisand Album, The Second Barbra Streisand Album, The Third Album, My Name Is Barbra, etc.) are considered classic renditions of theatre and cabaret standards, including her pensive version of the normally uptempo “Happy Days Are Here Again”.
She performed this in a duet with Judy Garland on The Judy Garland Show. Garland referred to her on the air as one of the last great belters. They also sang “There’s No Business Like Show Business” with Ethel Merman joining them.
Beginning with My Name Is Barbra, her early albums were often medley-filled keepsakes of her television specials. Starting in 1969, she began attempting more contemporary material, but like many talented singers of the day, she found herself out of her element with rock.
Her vocal talents prevailed and she gained newfound success with the pop and ballad-oriented Richard Perry-produced album Stoney End in 1971. The title track, written by Laura Nyro, was a major hit for Streisand.
During the 1970s, she was also highly prominent on the pop charts, with Top 10 recordings such as “The Way We Were” (US No. 1), “Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star Is Born)” (US No. 1), “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)” (1979, with Donna Summer) (US No. 1), “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” (with Neil Diamond) (US No. 1) and “The Main Event” (US No. 3), some of which came from soundtrack recordings of her films.
As the 1970s ended, Streisand was named the most successful female singer in the U.S. – with only Elvis Presley and The Beatles having sold more albums.
In 1980, she released her best-selling effort to date, the Barry Gibb-produced Guilty. The album contained the hits “Woman in Love” (which spent several weeks on top of the pop charts in the fall of 1980), “Guilty”, and “What Kind of Fool”.
After years of largely ignoring Broadway and traditional pop music in favor of more contemporary material, Streisand returned to her musical-theater roots with 1985’s The Broadway Album, which was unexpectedly successful, holding the coveted No. 1 Billboard position for three straight weeks, and being certified quadruple platinum. The album featured tunes by Rodgers and Hammerstein, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, and Stephen Sondheim, who was persuaded to rework some of his songs especially for this recording.
The Broadway Album was met with acclaim, including a Grammy nomination for album of the year and handed Streisand her eighth Grammy as Best Female Vocalist. After releasing the live album One Voice in 1986, Streisand was set to release another album of Broadway songs in 1988.
She recorded several cuts for the album under the direction of Rupert Holmes, including “On My Own” (from Les Misérables), a medley of “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” and “Heather on the Hill” (from Finian’s Rainbow and Brigadoon, respectively), “All I Ask of You” (from The Phantom of the Opera), “Warm All Over” (from The Most Happy Fella) and an unusual solo version of “Make Our Garden Grow” (from Candide).
Streisand was not happy with the direction of the project and it was scrapped. Only “Warm All Over” and a reworked, lite FM-friendly version of “All I Ask of You” were ever released, the latter appearing on Streisand’s 1988 effort, Till I Loved You.
At the beginning of the 1990s, Streisand started focusing on her film directorial efforts and became almost inactive in the recording studio.
In 1991, a four-disc box set, Just for the Record, was released. A compilation spanning Streisand’s entire career to date, it featured over 70 tracks of live performances, greatest hits, rarities and previously unreleased material.
A 1992 appearance at an APLA benefit as well as the aforementioned inaugural performance hinted that Streisand was becoming more receptive to the idea of live performances. A tour was suggested, though Streisand would not immediately commit to it, citing her well-known stage fright as well as security concerns. During this time, Streisand finally returned to the recording studio and released Back to Broadway in June 1993.
The album was not as universally lauded as its predecessor, but it did debut at No. 1 on the pop charts. One of the album’s highlights was a medley of “I Have A Love” / “One Hand, One Heart”, a duet with Johnny Mathis, who Streisand said is one of her favorite singers.
In September 1993, Streisand announced her first public concert appearances in 27 years. What began as a two-night New Year’s event at the MGM Grand Las Vegas led to a multi-city tour in the summer of 1994. Tickets for the tour were sold out in under an hour. Streisand also appeared on the covers of major magazines in anticipation of what Time magazine named “The Music Event of the Century”.
The tour was one of the biggest all-media merchandise parlays in history. Ticket prices ranged from US$50 to US$1,500, making Streisand the highest-paid concert performer in history. Barbra Streisand: The Concert went on to be the top-grossing concert of the year and earned five Emmy Awards and the Peabody Award, while the taped broadcast on HBO was the highest-rated concert special in HBO’s 30-year history.
Following the tour’s conclusion, Streisand once again kept a low profile musically, instead focusing her efforts on acting and directing duties as well as a burgeoning romance with actor James Brolin.
In 1996, Streisand released “I Finally Found Someone” as a duet with Canadian singer and songwriter Bryan Adams. The song was nominated for an Oscar as it was part of the soundtrack of Streisand’s self-directed movie The Mirror Has Two Faces. It reached #8 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was her first significant hit in almost a decade and her first top 10 hit on the Hot 100 since 1981.
In 1997, she finally returned to the recording studio, releasing Higher Ground, a collection of songs of a loosely inspirational nature which also featured a duet with Céline Dion. The album received generally favorable reviews and once again debuted at No. 1 on the pop charts.
Following her marriage to Brolin in 1998, Streisand recorded an album of love songs entitled A Love Like Ours the following year. Reviews were mixed, with many critics complaining about the somewhat syrupy sentiments and overly-lush arrangements.
On New Year’s Eve 1999, Streisand returned to the concert stage, selling out in the first few hours, eight months before her return. At the end of the millennium, she was the number one female singer in the U.S., with at least two No. 1 albums in each decade since she began performing. A two-disc live album of the concert entitled Timeless: Live in Concert was released in 2000.
Streisand performed versions of the Timeless concert in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, in early 2000. In advance of four concerts (two each in Los Angeles and New York) in September 2000, Streisand announced that she was retiring from playing public concerts.
Streisand’s most recent albums have been Christmas Memories (2001) and The Movie Album (2003), featuring famous film themes and backed by a large symphony orchestra. Guilty Pleasures, a collaboration with Barry Gibb and a sequel to their Guilty, was released worldwide in 2005.
In February 2006, Streisand recorded the song “Smile” alongside Tony Bennett at Streisand’s Malibu home. The song is included on Bennett’s 80th birthday album, Duets. In September 2006, the pair filmed a live performance of the song for a special directed by Rob Marshall entitled Tony Bennett: An American Classic. The special aired on NBC November 21, 2006, and was released on DVD the same day.
In 2006, Streisand announced her intent to tour again, in an effort to raise money and awareness for multiple issues. After four days of rehearsal at the Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton, New Jersey, the tour began on October 4 at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, continued with a featured stop in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and concluded at Staples Center in Los Angeles on November 20, 2006. The show was known as Streisand: The Tour.
In the summer of 2007, Streisand gave concerts for the first time in continental Europe. The first concert took place in Zürich (June 18), then Vienna (June 22), Paris (June 26), Berlin (June 30), Stockholm (July 4, canceled), Manchester (July 10) and Celbridge, near Dublin (July 14), followed by three concerts in London (July 18, 22 and 25), the only European city where Streisand had performed before 2007.
On November 17, 2008, Streisand returned to the studio to begin recording what would be her sixty-third album and it was announced that Diana Krall would be the producer.
On April 25, 2009, CBS aired Streisand’s latest television special, Streisand: Live in Concert, highlighting the featured stop from her 2006 North American tour in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. On September 26, 2009, Streisand performed a one-night-only show at the Village Vanguard in New York City’s Greenwich Village.
This performance was later released on DVD as One Night Only: Barbra Streisand and Quartet at The Village Vanguard. On September 29, 2009, Streisand and Columbia Records released her newest studio album, Love is the Answer, produced by Diana Krall.
On October 2, 2009, Streisand made her British television performance debut with an interview on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross to promote the album. This album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and registered her biggest weekly sales since 1997, making Streisand the only artist in history to achieve No. 1 albums in five different decades.
On February 1, 2010, Streisand joined over eighty other artists in recording a new version of the 1985 charity single “We Are the World”. Quincy Jones and Lionel Richie planned to release the new version to mark the 25th anniversary of its original recording. These plans changed, however, in view of the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti on January 12, 2010, and on February 12, the song, now called “We Are the World 25 for Haiti”, made its debut as a charity single to support relief aid for the island nation.
In 2011, Streisand sang “Somewhere” from the Broadway musical West Side Story, with child prodigy Jackie Evancho, on Evancho’s album Dream with Me.
Streisand was honored as MusiCares Person of the Year on February 11, 2011, two days prior to the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards.
On October 11, 2012, Streisand gave a three-hour concert performance before a crowd of 18,000 as part of the ongoing inaugural events of Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Streisand was joined onstage by trumpeter Chris Botti, Italian operatic trio Il Volo and her son Jason Gould. The concert included musical tributes by Streisand to Donna Summer and Marvin Hamlisch, both of whom had died earlier in 2012.
In September 2014, she released Partners, a new album of duets that features collaborations with Elvis Presley, Andrea Bocelli, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, Billy Joel, Babyface, Michael Bublé, Josh Groban, John Mayer, John Legend, Blake Shelton and Jason Gould. This album topped the Billboard 200 with sales of 196,000 copies in the first week, making Streisand the only recording artist to have a number-one album in each of the last six decades.
In May 2016, Streisand announced the upcoming album Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway to be released in August following a nine-city concert tour, Barbra: The Music, The Mem’ries, The Magic, including performances in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, and a return to her hometown of Brooklyn.
In June 2018, Streisand confirmed she was working on an album titled Walls. This album, a protest against the Trump administration, came out on November 2, 2018, just prior to the U.S. midterm election. A featured track in this album is “Don’t Lie to Me.”
Her first film was a reprise of her Broadway hit, Funny Girl (1968), an artistic and commercial success directed by Hollywood veteran William Wyler. Streisand won the 1968 Academy Award for Best Actress for the role sharing it with Katharine Hepburn, the only time there has been a tie in this Oscar category.
Her next two movies were also based on musicals—Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly!, directed by Gene Kelly (1969) and Alan Jay Lerner’s and Burton Lane’s On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, directed by Vincente Minnelli (1970), while her fourth film was based on the Broadway play The Owl and the Pussycat (1970).
During the 1970s, Streisand starred in several screwball comedies, including What’s Up, Doc? (1972) and The Main Event (1979), both co-starring Ryan O’Neal, and For Pete’s Sake (1974) with Michael Sarrazin.
One of her most famous roles during this period was in the drama The Way We Were (1973) with Robert Redford, for which she received an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress. She earned her second Academy Award for Best Original Song (with lyricist Paul Williams) for the song “Evergreen”, from A Star Is Born in 1976.
Along with Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier and later Steve McQueen, Streisand formed First Artists Production Company in 1969 so actors could secure properties and develop movie projects for themselves. Streisand’s initial outing with First Artists was Up the Sandbox (1972).
From 1969 to 1980, Streisand appeared in Top Ten Money Making Stars Poll, the annual motion picture exhibitors poll of Top 10 Box Office attractions a total of 10 times, often as the only woman on the list.
After the commercially disappointing All Night Long in 1981, Streisand’s film output decreased considerably (having acted in only eight films since).
Streisand produced a number of her own films, setting up Barwood Films in 1972. The first film she made, Yentl (1983), was turned down by every Hollywood studio at least once when she asked to not only direct the picture, but also to star in the film, until Orion Pictures took on the project and gave the film a budget of $14 million.
For Yentl (1983), she was producer, director, and star, an experience she repeated for The Prince of Tides (1991) and The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996). There was controversy when Yentl received five Academy Award nominations, but none for the major categories of Best Picture, actress, or Director.
The Prince of Tides received even more Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Screenplay, although not for director.
Streisand also co-scripted Yentl (with Jack Rosenthal), something for which she is not always given credit.
In 2004, Streisand made a return to film acting after an eight-year hiatus, in the comedy Meet the Fockers (a sequel to Meet the Parents), playing opposite Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller, Blythe Danner and Robert De Niro.
In 2005, Streisand’s Barwood Films, Gary Smith, and Sonny Murray purchased the rights to Simon Mawer’s book Mendel’s Dwarf.
In December 2008, she stated that she was considering directing an adaptation of Larry Kramer’s play The Normal Heart, a project she has worked on since the mid-1990s.
In December 2010, Streisand appeared in Little Fockers, the third film from the Meet the Parents trilogy, reprising the role of Roz Focker alongside Dustin Hoffman.
On January 28, 2011, The Hollywood Reporter announced that Paramount Pictures had given the green light to begin shooting the road-trip comedy My Mother’s Curse, with Seth Rogen playing Streisand’s character’s son. Anne Fletcher directed the project with a script by Dan Fogelman. Executive producers included Streisand, Rogen, Fogelman and David Ellison, whose Skydance Productions co-financed the road movie.
Shooting began in spring 2011 and wrapped in July. The film’s title was eventually altered to The Guilt Trip and the movie was released in December 2012.
Streisand has been set to star in a film adaptation of the musical Gypsy featuring music by Jules Styne, with Richard LaGravenese reportedly attached to the project as screenwriter.
In April 2016, it was reported that Streisand was in advanced negotiations to star in and produce the film, which would be directed by Barry Levinson and distributed by STX Entertainment. Two months later, the film’s script had been completed and production was scheduled to begin in early 2017.
Streisand is set to direct the historical drama Catherine the Great, a feature biopic about the 18th-century Russian empress, based on the top 2014 Black List script, produced by Gil Netter.