The Kennedy Center

Barbra Streisand


(Singer, actress, director, producer, writer; born April 24, 1942 in Brooklyn, New York)

Her name is Barbra, and there has never been anyone quite like her.

From the start, her genius was impossible to ignore. Among the first to take notice of Barbra Streisand was Harold Arlen, who had this to say after hearing the performer’s debut Barbra Streisand Album: “Did you ever hear Helen Morgan sing?  Were you ever at the theater when Fanny Brice clowned in her classic comedic way, or when Beatrice Lillie deliciously poked fun at all sham and pomp? Have you heard our top vocalists belt, whisper or sing with that steady and urgent beat behind them? Have you ever seen a painting by Modigliani? If you have, do not think the above has been ballooned out of proportion. I advise you to watch over Barbra Streisand’s career. This young lady (a mere twenty) has a stunning future. Keep listening, keep watching. And please remember, I told you so.”

For more than 40 years, Barbra Streisand’s trailblazing career in music, theater, films, and television has been and remains one of the most thrilling spectacles of our culture. Her voice is recognizable as no one else’s within a note or two.  Her way with Gershwin and Bernstein and Sondheim, with Rodgers and Hammerstein as well as with Michel Legrand and Alan and Marilyn Bergman, even with the likes of Debussy, Schumann, and Wolf – her way with the greatest songs of all time – has been a gift to American culture.

A quick glance at a list of Streisand firsts is staggering. Her first Broadway appearance, in I Can Get It For You Wholesale, earned her a New York Drama Critics Circle Award as well as a Tony(r) nomination. Her first album, The Barbra Streisand Album, got not one but two Grammy Awards in 1963 including Album of the Year, making her at that time the youngest artist ever to have received that award.  In 1965, Streisand’s first television special, My Name Is Barbra, redefined and revitalized the genre, earning a total of five Emmys as well as the distinguished Peabody Award.  It is one of many signs of this amazing career that three decades after that first batch of Emmys her Barbra Streisand: The Concert copped two Emmys for the singer as well three more for her production—and more Emmy honors still in 2001 for Barbra Streisand: Timeless, Live in Concert.

Her first motion picture, Funny Girl, earned her the 1968 Academy Award for Best Actress. Jule Styne, Funny Girl’s composer, commented early on that “besides possessing a God-given singing voice, Barbra is the first girl I have ever heard who is a great actress in each song. Barbra makes every song sound like a well-written three-act play performed stunningly in three minutes.”

This actress who sings is the highest-selling female artist of all time. With fifty gold albums, and thirteen multi-platinum, sales of Streisand albums are ahead of those of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones and second only to Elvis—making this Broadway baby the only artists among the top four of all time who is not part of the rock and roll revolution. Her Number One solo albums so far span more than three decades, a longevity simply unmatched by any other solo recording artist.

Barbra Streisand is the first female composer to win an Academy Award, for her aptly named song “Evergreen” from the hit 1976 film A Star Is Born.  In 1983, Yentl made Streisand the first woman ever to produce, direct, write, and star in a major motion picture. Smashing right through Hollywood’s glass ceiling, The Prince of Tides was the first film directed by its female star to receive a Best Director nomination from the Directors Guild of America as well as seven Academy Award nominations. The first dramatic television feature from Streisand’s own Barwood Films, the pioneering Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story, earned three Emmy Awards and signaled Streisand’s commitment to social justice. The activist work of the founder of the Streisand Foundation—which continues to benefit everything from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and the Center for Public Integrity to the National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund and the Cedars-Sinai Women’s Heart Center-- is of a piece with this indomitable woman’s art. In 2004, Barbra Streisand received the Humanitarian Award from the Human Rights campaign.

She was born in Brooklyn in 1942, the daughter of Diana and Emanuel Streisand. Her father, a dedicated and respected teacher who had emigrated from Vienna, passed away when Barbra was only 15 months. While still in her teens, and an honor student at Erasmus High School in Brooklyn, she burst into show business with a singing contest at a small Greenwich Village club, leading to gigs at the Bon Soir and the Blue Angel and, in 1962, to a contract with Columbia Records. That same year, Streisand landed a small but, as it turned out, unforgettable role: Miss Marmelstein in I Can get It For You Wholesale. What followed is the stuff of living legend: The Ed Sullivan Show in 1962, opening for Liberace in Las Vegas in 1963, Funny Girl at the Winter Garden in 1964, reprised in 1966 in London’s West End at the Prince of Wales. A moving passing-of-the-mantle was televised, as Streisand appeared as a guest in The Judy Garland Show, where “Happy Days Are Here Again” became—later with “People” and “Don’t Rain On My Parade”—a signature Streisand song. Her own television specials followed and redefined the musical possibilities of television itself, from My Name is Barbra in 1965 right through Color Me Barbra, Belle of 14th Street, Barbra Streisand and Other Musical Instruments, plus a historic concert in Central Park in 1967 and the more recent live shows such as One Voice.

Her movie career flourished, a triumphant debut in Funny Girl, Hello Dolly!On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, the saucy The Owl and the Pussycat, the protofeminist Up The Sandbox, the heartbreaking The Way We Were, A Star Is Born, Yentl, the screwball classic What’s Up, Doc?, and the Prince of Tides.

Richard Rodgers, one of the first Kennedy Center Honorees and an early Streisand champion, summed up her talent best when he enthused that “Nobody is talented enough to get laughs, to bring tears, to sing with the depth of a fine cello or the lift of a climbing bird. Nobody, that is, except Barbra. She makes our musical world a much happier place.”  Bowled over by this American’s way with French chansons, as well as with her own American Songbook, none other than Maurice Chevalier proclaimed “Barbra Streisand is one of those miracles which comes along once in a lifetime. She is mad with talent and more gifted than any human being should be permitted to be. We embrace you, Barbra Streisand.”  So does the whole world.
Barbra Streisand