Barbra Streisand has been the ultimate diva for decades. Ever since she hit the scene in the ’60s, she’s been known for her stunning vocal range and glamorous style. Her many achievements include winning Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards (known as the EGOT) and breaking records on the Billboard charts leading her to be known as one of the best-selling artists of all time.
Streisand’s musical output is undeniably impressive — she’s the only woman to top the musical charts in every decade from the ’60s to the 2020s — but she’s more than just a singer. She’s also an actress and director and now, for the first time, a memoirist. Her highly-anticipated new book, My Name Is Barbra, is out this week, and at 992 pages, it’s sure to provide a singular view of her extraordinary life.
Now 81 and just as fabulous as ever, Streisand is a true living legend, and we can’t wait to lose ourselves in her epic memoir. “For 40 years, publishers have been asking me to write my autobiography, but I kept turning them down because I prefer to live in the present rather than dwell in the past,” she writes. But now Streisand is finally setting the record straight on her long reign as pop culture royalty.
In honor of this years-in-the-making literary work, we’re taking a look back at some of Babs’ most iconic moments.
Barbra Streisand’s early days
Barbara (yep, her name was originally spelled in the traditional way! Taking out the extra A was her choice) Streisand was born in New York in 1942. She began acting in plays as a teenager and started her singing career in nightclubs in the early ’60s. Her gorgeous renditions of standards and show tunes quickly earned her acclaim, and in 1963, at just 21, she released her first album.
As Streisand rose to stardom, it wasn’t all fun and games. In her memoir, she writes that she was frequently ridiculed for her looks, and called strange, insulting things like “‘a sour persimmon,’ ‘a furious hamster,’ ‘a myopic gazelle’ [and] ‘a seasick ferret.'”
“Sometimes it felt like my nose got more press than I did,” Streisand writes. While these comments about her appearance stung, she didn’t let them hold her back, and soon the world would be won over by her unique charisma.
Babs hits it big in the 1960s
Barbra’s debut album was a hit, and as the ’60s continued she’d become one of the world’s most famous women. In 1964, she starred as entertainer Fanny Brice in Funny Girl on Broadway, and in this role she performed some of the songs that would become her standards, including “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” In 1968, she made her movie debut starring in the film version of the play and won an Oscar for her performance.
During the ’60s, Streisand also appeared in a number of popular TV specials and continued to dominate the charts with albums that put her incomparable spin on classic tunes. In this decade alone, she released 11 albums, and by the end of the decade she started to bring more contemporary styling to her musical repertoire, covering songs by Simon & Garfunkel and The Beatles.
In her memoir, Barbra goes deep on her many high-profile loves. In 1963, she married actor Elliott Gould. The two up-and-comers met when they were acting in a play together, and were together until 1971. They had a son, Jason, in 1966.
Sensational Streisand in the 1970s
In the ’70s, Streisand expanded her reach, becoming even more culturally omnipresent. She continued acting, starring in popular movies like the screwball comedy What’s Up, Doc?, the heartstring-tugging romance The Way We Were and the oh-so-’70s version of the classic showbiz tale A Star Is Born.
Reflecting on her acting career, she writes, “The audience can tell when an actor is truly thinking, feeling, reacting. It’s impossible to fake an emotion when your face is in close-up on a screen 20 feet high. The camera sees right through to the truth. When you pay attention and really listen, that comes across…and in my opinion that’s the secret of great acting.”
While balancing acting and singing can be a tricky proposition, Streisand has long been a pro at both — not only can she work a closeup, she also makes invaluable contributions to the soundtrack! “The Way We Were” (from, of course, The Way We Were) and “Evergreen” (from A Star Is Born) both hit number one on the charts, and her movies defined an era. She starred alongside hunks of the day like Ryan O’Neal, Robert Redford and Kris Kristofferson, holding her own as a sexy and stylish screen presence who was truly one of a kind.
Streisand’s musical career continued to thrive in this period, as she more fully transitioned to contemporary pop (with a voice like that, she could truly sing anything!) and collaborated with musicians like Donna Summer and Neil Diamond.
There was no bigger female vocalist than Barbra at this time, and in her many decades of fame, she’s never left the cultural conversation.
A showbiz icon in the ’80s and beyond
While other stars of the ’60s struggled to maintain relevance in the ’80s and beyond, Streisand stayed on top. In fact, her 1980 album Guilty, featuring songs written and produced by Barry Gibb of The Bee Gees, became her best-selling record to date.
The ’80s was also when Barbra made a pivotal career move, adding movie directing to her already long resume. In 1983, she wrote and directed her first movie, Yentl, which she also starred in.
At the time, she was one of very few women to step behind the camera, and the movie, which told the powerful story of a Jewish woman in Poland in the early 20th century, was a true passion project for Streisand.
Streisand kept directing into the ’90s, helming movies like The Prince of Tides and The Mirror Has Two Faces. She never slowed down on making music either, releasing everything from albums of Broadway songs that marked a return to her roots to her second Christmas album to albums of duets. Her last album, Walls, was released in 2018, and while it’s been five years since she’s put out new music, she’s clearly been keeping busy, given how long it must’ve taken to write her memoir!
Streisand found her longest-lasting love in the ’90s, when she met actor James Brolin. The talented couple has been married since 1998. In her memoir, she writes, “Jim and I met at a point in my life when I had basically given up on finding someone… I think the real reason our relationship has endured is that we’re both willing to work at it.” 25 years into their marriage, they’re still going strong, and Barbra’s sweet words about her husband are a real testament to the strength of their relationship.
Leaving her legacy
In her six decades of international superstardom, Barbra Streisand has gone from a young ingenue to a seasoned showbiz veteran with a list of accomplishments like no other. She certainly has no shortage of juicy stories to tell, and her memoir promises to be one of her most amazing creations yet.
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