80 years of Barbra Streisand

As iconic singer, actor and director Barbra Streisand turns 80, we take a look at her remarkable life.

Barbara Streisand

by Jo Carnegie |

On April 24, 1943, a star was born in New York, although the world was yet to know it. Barbara Joan Streisand was the daughter of a teacher father and a critical mother. Tragedy struck the family when her father Emanuel died when she was just a year old.

A talented singer from an early age, Barbra (her professional name) was known around Brooklyn according to The New York Times as the, “girl with no father and a good voice.” Says Barbra herself of those years: “I always wanted to be somebody, to be famous... You know, get out of Brooklyn.”

That drive was obvious early on. Barbra had a difficult relationship with her mother and left home at 16 to pursue her dreams of making it on Broadway.

Despite going on to become the best-selling female artist of all time, acting was always Barbra’s first love. Working in a series of admin jobs so she could attend auditions for acting roles, it was only when nothing materialised that she turned to her vocal talents instead.

After winning a talent show in a Manhattan bar, Barbra – who’d changed the spelling of her name because she disliked it – began attracting the attention of music industry bigwigs.

James Brolin and Barbara Streisand
©Alamy

In 1963 she released, The Barbra Streisand Album with Columbia Records. Despite it being her debut album, the 20-year-old Barbra insisted on having full creative control in return for lower earnings, an arrangement that continued throughout her career. “I still received lots of pressure from the label to include some pop hits on my first album, but I held out for the songs that really meant something to me,” she said.

From then on, her ascent was unstoppable. Ignoring pressure to ‘get a nose job’ early on in her career, she went on to have chart toppers such as Woman In Love, The Way We Were, and Evergreen.

Barbra turned her Midas touch to her film career as well, with a list of hit movies including Funny Girl in 1968 with Omar Sharif, for which she won a Best Actress Oscar, What’s Up Doc in 1972 with Ryan O’Neal, The Way We Were in 1973 with Robert Redford and A Star Is Born in 1976 with Kris Kristofferson, for which she won her second Oscar for the film’s soundtrack, Evergreen.

She is still one of only a handful of artists to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and the Broadway Tony award, as well as countless other nominations.

Fiercely protective about her private life, in 2003 she sued a photographer for taking aerial photographs of her home which attracted even more attention, coining the term ‘the Streisand Effect’.

James Brolin and Barbara Streisand
©Alamy

Her first marriage to actor Elliott Gould ended after eight years and in 1998, she married actor James Brolin. The two now live on an ocean-front Malibu estate where Barbra famously has an underground shopping mall where all her awards, memorabilia and costumes from her six-decade-long career are on display.

Outspoken, Barbra Streisand paved the way for a generation of female artists, as well as some of the best ballads of the 20th Century. Dog lover, diva, pioneer, artist, she shows no sign of slowing down. Happy birthday to a true showbiz legend.

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