Brooklyn's own funny girl was born on the cusp of WWII, in a part of New York she still likes to call "down to earth." Streisand came from less-than-Tony beginnings and lived, at various points in her young life, close to the poverty line. Her dad died when she was still a baby and she has called her childhood painful. Despite a humble start, there was nothing humble about her talent. An extraordinary singer, songwriter, actress, producer and director, Streisand's storied career has spanned decades as well as continents, but nowhere is she more beloved than in the city of her birth, New York.
Some consider Streisand to be a singer who acts. Others, including herself, say she is an actor who sings. It's hard to define an indefinable talent, but Streisand was drawn to the stage and an acting career even as a little girl. She achieved academic success throughout her school years, but upon graduation from high school, eschewed college, instead hoping to jumpstart her career in New York's trenches. A boyfriend urged her to create a club act, which she did in 1960, famously launching her singing career and acquiring her first fans at cabarets and clubs like the Lion and the Blue Angel in Greenwich Village. Despite her dearth of singing lessons and an inability to read music, her fan base, and popularity, continued to blossom, leading to her first television appearance on "The Tonight Show" after guest host Orson Bean heard her singing at a club in the Village.
Streisand made her Broadway debut at the tender age of 19 as Miss Marmelstein, a secretary working in New York's Garment District during the 1930s in "I Can Get It For You Wholesale." Streisand was nominated for a Tony and won a New York Drama Critics Poll Award for her role. The show's cast album was her first studio recording, bringing her to the attention of Columbia Records, with whom she signed that same year. Her very first album for Columbia, "The Barbra Streisand Album," was released in 1963 and became album of the year, yielding her two Grammys and international accolades. Streisand continued to record, but returned to Broadway and to one of her most famous roles, "Funny Girl," in 1964 (a role which would later earn her the Best Actress Oscar for the film version of the musical in 1969).
Marrying film and music, Streisand continued to rule Hollywood with "The Way We Were," a poignant film which earned her an Academy Award nomination and a number one song in 1973. Shortly thereafter, she began creating the types of projects most important to her, first by producing and starring in "A Star is Born" and then directing "Yentl, the Yeshiva Boy." Streisand continued to sing, act, produce and direct ongoing projects, amassing a King's ransom of awards and constantly honing her multifaceted, unparalleled talent as well as her social conscience.
Currently in her sixth, breathtaking decade as a performer, Streisand continues to make music and movies that move us to tears, fill us with laughter and bring home the intricacies of human emotion. With the release of her album "Partners" this year, which entered the Billboard chart at number one, Ms. Streisand made history as the only recording artist in history to have a number one release in 6 consecutive decades.
In her career, Ms. Streisand has been awarded two Oscars, five Emmys, ten Golden Globes, eight Grammys plus two special Grammys; a Lifetime Achievement Award and a Grammy Legend Award, a special Tony award in 1970 as Star of the Decade, and two Cable Ace awards – the only artist to receive honors in all of those fields of endeavor.
An incredible gift to her fans, Streisand is also committed to supporting causes of significance to her, primarily through her high-profile in the political arena as well as through the Streisand Foundation, which has funneled over $20,000,000 to charities and other important works since its inception in 1986.
Ms. Streisand has been lending a huge amount of focus and attention to her Women's heart initiative and the Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute. In a letter to her fans, she notes: "While the mortality rate for men with coronary artery disease has been declining for the past 30 years, the number of women who die from it is rising. Women have paid a huge price for the medical and scientific community not knowing about the important gender differences in heart disease. Through gender-specific heart research, the development of new diagnostic tools, breakthrough clinical trials using stem cells to enable the heart to heal itself, and specialized care for women, the Women's Heart Center is improving the detection and treatment of women's heart disease."
Streisand married the love of her life, James Brolin, in 1998. She shares a visibly deep connection with her son, Jason Gould (from her first marriage to Elliot Gould). Mom and son are featured on the newly-released duet album, "Partners." Streisand has also been seen sharing the limelight with her half-sister, also a singer, Roslyn Kind. Clearly as in love with her family as she is with her fans, Streisand's unique star continues to shine with unparalleled brightness.
Not bad for a kid who never learned how to read music.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.
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