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On Barbra Streisand


On Barbra Streisand

Sleeve Notes for SIMPLY STREISAND Album (1967)

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 than it was before.”

Richard Rogers


The first time I saw Barbra I was with my collaborator, Jimmy Van Heuson, at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas. Barbra came out on stage to open the show-the dinner show! She slowly walked to the microphone, facing a very typical dinner-type audience. In defiance of all the rules, she went into her opening number, ‘When The Sun Comes Out’-a ballad instead of the traditional up-tempo opener-as unlikely a number as ever began a show. I was just getting over the shock of it when I noticed, to my amazement, that erveryone had stopped eating. Even more amazing, the waiters had stopped serving. It was all Barbra Streisand, and Barbra Streisand had them all. I have only known one or two people in all of show business who had this power with an audience. I never waited to see who closed the show, but rushed backstage and fell in love! What I adore about this or the other Barbra Streisand albums is that the magic of that first meeting is captured and held in every song. If you have ever seen Barbra you will understand. If you haven’t, what are you waiting for?”

Sammy Cahn


“…What makes her the unique and ingenious talent that she is? Listening to this album again and again, I have reached one conclusion: besides possessing a God-given singing voice, Barbra is the first girl I have everr heard who is a great actress in each song. Barbra makes each song sound like a well-writtren three-act play performed stunningly in three minutes. Although the same Barbra Streisand, she takes on an exciting new characterization for each song. At its beginning, she establishes  her character; next a conflict (making all the lyrics mean so much more than they seem to), then she reaches a tremendous conclusion - so that, even after hearing only one song, lasting only a few minutes, one is completely overwhelmed.”

Barbra knows what she is singing, knows what lyrics mean. I was one of the early, early Barbra Streisand fans and in all my years of writing songs and being associated with top singers, I have never been as thrilled as I was listening to this album. The only thing I can imagine exciting me more is hearing Barbra sing the score from the new musical by Bob Merrill and myself based on the life of Fanny Brice. We can’t wait for that first rehearsal!!”

Jule Styne

Sleeve Notes for JE M’APPELLE BARBRA Album (1966)

Barbra Streisand is one of those miracles which comes along once in a lifetime, even in America where the sensational apparently never ceases to flourish. She is mad with talent and more gifted than any human being should be permitted to be. She sings ‘Les Feulles Mortes-among other songs-with the voice of an angel and gives the French words a poignancy that they never hass before. This very young American girl is enchanting the whole world with an artistry that is new, impulsive and staggering. We bow to you, “grande petite Madame.” We embrace you Barbra Streisand.”

Maurice Chevalier


My musical tastes are as diverse as hell…whether it’s heavy metal or gentle modern folk or Americana or Opera I’ll always treasure the very best of these genres and more. But where and when did this love for music start? Last night I saw Barbra Streisand’s BACK TO BROOKLYN live concert and it brought back memories of when this deep and wide affection for music started. I was a student living in Hong Kong where my father was working on a major water scheme. Hong Kong cinemas played several feature films each day - morning, noon and night. I was a glutton for movies and it was not unusual for me to catch all daily features. In 1961 one of those films was West Side Story which pricked my interest in musicals. Soon after I read about a Broadway musical called Funny Girl and its star Barbra Streisand. In 1964, while still living in Hong Kong, I acquired my first Streisand album and even as a young student was blown away by her voice and articulation. It represented my first serious interest in music - any great music including The Modern Jazz Quartet, the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Nancy Wilson, Nina Simone, and so much more!


In April 1966, Funny Girl opened at the Prince Edward Theatre in London’s West End where it ran for a 14-week season, playing to capacity houses and maximum standing room. Despite the success, the production was forced to close following the news that Streisand, now 24, was expecting a baby and would have to leave the production. A spokesperson for the show said they “couldn’t sell one ticket” for performances after Streisand’s departure, and the show didn’t carry on with Lisa Shane, her understudy, in the role. The press reported that 400 people ‘walked out’ upon hearing that Streisand was ill and would not be performing one evening, although Lisa Shane went on to please audiences and receive strong reviews. I had to see the show!!! At the time I was working in a junior/trainee role at Harrods in London and could only manage to secure matinee tickets for myself and the most beautiful Indian lady who also worked at Harrods. It was only after securing the tickets that I discovered that Streisand was only performing one show per day and I reckoned that it would be the evening show. But to my great surprise and delight when we arrived at the theatre discovered that Streisand was only performing in the matinee show!!! It was incredible. Streisand was onstage for most of the show and proved to me that she was very special indeed.


But Streisand’s first ambition was to be an actor. It was her passion and her major frustration. Donald Zec and Anthony Fowles’ Streisand biography describes her vocal revelation:

Barbra Streisand had always maintained - still does - that she is an actress first and a singer, a performer, if at all, a long way second. But for some months now, events and the pangs of poverty, were pushing her on stage behind a microphone. An aquaintance had come back to her previous pad for an after-a-show coffee. He had produced a guitar, she had started to sing along. Her current room-mate, another aspiring actress named Marilyn Fried, had been knocked out by the quality of her voice. Was it for real? Was it a one-off fluke brought about by the late hour, the room’s acoustics, a magic combination of coffee and relaxed togetherness? From the back of a closet Barbra produced a demonstration record that she had made half-a-dozen years before. The quality of voice was consistant. So was the response of her two listeners: she had set her sights on the wrong career. She was born to sing.

Barbra was sceptical, diffident, embarrassed - and intrigued…Should she maybe consider auditioning. As a singer. Like, was she good enough? Not that she was a singer, you know. She was an actress. Right? Right. Only…

Only she did have, she knew provately, the chance to audition as a singer - for, of all things, The Sound Of Music. It had come about via a typically offbeat photograph she had pushed around the casting offices. Barry Dennen has recalled his impression of it, and how it worked for her: “She was all swathed in cloaks and veils and earrings and chatchkalas, looking like Ruth Draper in moving moment. It was so hilarious that Eddie Blum of the Rodgers and Hammerstein casting office called Barbra just to see what kind of girl would send out a picture like that.”

In the event, Blum kept her singing for a three-hour stint - along time for a girl with an untrained voice and not much in the way of a ‘book’ of prepared audition pieces. But Blum could see beneath the rawness…’He was fascinated with her talent and her intelligence…’ Then Dennen recalls, Blum administered his pay-off to the long day: ‘He told her he couldn’t put her in the chorus because she was something special and there was nothing in The Sound Of Music for a talent like hers.’

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