Every two weeks William will be sharing posts from his music archives here on Smorgasbord with a reminder of the incredible musicians and singers that have been featured over the last five years.
And this week the start of the series on the legend that is Barbra Streisand.
Barbra Streisand The Early years – solos of the 1970s – collaborations
I doubt that anyone reading this has not heard the music of Barbra Streisand or watched her movies. William takes us behind the scenes and also shares her most popular music across the decades.
When we look at the sophisticated and accomplished artist who performs so effortlessly, it is easy to forget that for many the road to stardom was challenging. This was the case with Barbra Streisand who was born into a loving family in Brooklyn in 1942.
Her grandparents on her mother’s side had emigrated from Russia and on her father’s side from Galica which was then Poland-Ukraine. Barbra’s mother Ida had been a soprano before becoming a school secretary and her father taught high school English. Tragically shortly after Barbra’s first birthday her father died at only age 34 from complications from an epileptic seizure. This obviously had a devastating effect on the small family and a financial impact. Ida worked as a bookkeeper to try and make ends meet but it meant that time with Barbra was limited. Eventually the two of them moved in with her grandparents and Ida returned to singing as a semi-professional to help pay the bills. When Barbra was seven years old, her mother remarried Louis Kind and in 1951 Rosalind was born.
School was another challenge Barbra and painfully shy and aware that the other children found her looks unusual, she would be disruptive in class. However by the time she entered high school her world was to change as the teenage Barbara became entranced with the movies and the elegant stars that filled the screen. Acting for a living became her dream and one of the ways that she discovered she could gain attention was by singing. She became known in the neighbourhood for her voice and would often practice in the hallway of their apartment building which gave her voice an echoing quality.
By 1955 Barbra was an honor student in modern history, English and Spanish and she also joined the Freshman Chorus and Choral Club. One of her classmates was Neil Diamond who was also a member of choir. When she was 13 years old she and her mother recorded some songs on tape and although she recognised that her voice was as good as other said, she was still determined to be an actress. At age 14, Barbra saw her first Broadway play “The Diary of Anne Frank” starring Susan Strasberg who became her new role model. She began spending time in the library studying the biographies of various stage actresses such as Sarah Bernhardt. This lead to Barbra reading the classics such as Shakespeare and Ibsen and the acting methods of Stanislavski and Chekhov.
Her first walk-on part was in the summer of 1957 at age 15 at the Playhouse in Malden Bridge, New York. This was followed by a couple of small roles and on her return to school at the end of the summer, she took a backstage job a the Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village. This lead to a part in “Driftwood” working with Joan Rivers.
At age sixteen, she graduated from Erasmus Hall in January 1959, she was fourth in her class. Despite her mother’s pleas that she stay out of show business, she immediately set out trying to get roles on the New York City stage. Barbra Streisand never attended college. After renting a small apartment on 48th street, in the heart of the theater district, she accepted any job she could involving the stage, and at every opportunity, she “made the rounds” of the casting offices.
She took a job as an usher at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater for “The Sound of Music,” early in 1960. During the run of the play, she heard that the casting director was auditioning for more singers, and it marked the first time she sang in pursuit of a job. Although the director felt she was not right for the part, he encouraged her to begin including her talent as a singer on her résumé when looking for other work.
This began a new direction for Barbra Streisand with talent contests and an audition at the Bon Soir Nightclub with a contract for $125 per week. In 1960 at age 18, she was the opening act of Phyllis Diller. Her then boyfriend Barry Dennen who had been encouraging her singing also exposed her to his extensive collection of female singing artists such as Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf that helped Barbra develop her own style.. With a developing sophisticated onstage presence, Barbra Streisand was winning new fans at every performance.
With the help of her new personal manager, Martin Erlichman, Barbra enjoyed success in shows in Detroit and St. Louis and then on to the popular Blue Angel nightclub in Manhattan between 1961 and 1962. This led to her first television appearance on The Tonight Show bringing her talent to a much wider audience.
Her acting dream however was not forgotten and While still appearing at the Blue Angel, theater director and playwright Arthur Laurents asked her to audition for a new musical comedy he was directing, “I Can Get It For Wholesale.” She got the part of secretary to the lead actor businessman, played by then unknown Elliott Gould. They fell in love during rehearsals and eventually moved into a small apartment together. The show opened on March 22, 1962, at the Shubert Theater, and received rave reviews. She then became Broadway’s most exciting and youngest new star.
Happy Days Are Here Again,” written by Milton Ager and Jack Yellen, was featured in the 1930 film “Chasing Rainbows.” Streisand first recorded this song in 1962, and it was her first commercial hit. She re- recorded it in January 1963 for her solo album debut “The Barbara Streisand Album.” While this song was traditionally sung at a faster tempo, Streisand’s version stands out because of how slowly and expressively she sings it. It also took on a political meaning.
Here is a version with the other legend Judy Garland
This was followed by appearances on the “Ed Sullivan Show” and in a number of Bob Hope specials. Liberace was immediately drawn to the young singer and invited her to Las Vegas to perform as his opening act at the Riviera Hotel. The next year Barbra starred in her own show in Lake Tahoe and she and Elliot Gould married.
Streisand signed with Columbia Records that same year and released her first album, “The Barbra Streisand Album” in 1963. It became a Top 10 gold record and received two Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year and Best Female Performance. At the time, she was the youngest artist to receive those honors, and became the best-selling female vocalist in the country. That summer she also released “The Second Barbra Streisand Album,” which established her as the “most exciting new personality since Elvis Presley.”
Streisand returned to Broadway in 1964 with an acclaimed performance as entertainer Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl” at the Winter Garden Theater. The show introduced two of her signature songs, “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” Because of the play’s overnight success, she appeared on the cover of “Time.” In 1964 Streisand was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical but lost to Carol Channing in “Hello, Dolly!”
“Don’t Rain On My Parade,” written by Bob Merrill and Jule Styne, is from the 1964 musical “Funny Girl” and was featured in the 1968 movie version of the musical. Both the movie and stage versions feature Streisand performing the song. In 2004 it finished #46 in AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Songs survey of the top tunes in American cinema.
“People,” was one of the first songs written for the musical score of “Funny Girl,” based on the life and career of Broadway and film star Fanny Brice. In 1965 Streisand won the Grammy Award for Best Vocal Performance with this fabulous song. This song has been covered by some of the greatest names in the music industry, including Andy Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, Perry Como, and The Supremes. In 1998, Streisand’s version was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 2004, Streisand’s version on the soundtrack of Funny Girl finished at #13 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs survey of top tunes in American cinema.
In 1965, Streisand turned to television with “My Name is Barbra.” The show received five Emmy Awards, and CBS Television awarded Streisand a 10-year contract to produce and star in more TV specials. Streisand was given complete artistic control of the next four network productions.
Streisand repeated her success with “Funny Girl” in 1966 in London at the Prince of Wales Theater. Two years later she made her big-screen debut in the film version of the play. In addition to winning the 1968 Academy Award for her performance, she won a Golden Globe and was named “Star of the Year ” by the National Association of Theater Owners.
Join us in two weeks for part two of the Barbra Streisand story.
William Price King is an American jazz singer, crooner, and composer.
His interest in music began at an early age when he studied piano and clarinet in high school. At Morehouse College in Atlanta where he grew up, he sang in the Glee Club and studied classical music. After graduation he went off to the Yale School of Music where he earned a Masters degree. From there he journeyed to New York where he created a jazz trio ‘Au Naturel’ which performed in some of the hottest venues in Manhattan including gigs on Broadway and the famous ‘Rainbow Room.’ These gigs opened doors for performances in Montreal and a European tour.
While touring Europe he met a lovely French lady, Jeanne Maïstre, who, a year later became his wife. King left the group ‘Au Naturel’ and settled in the south of France where he started a new life on the French Riviera, opening his own music school – the “Price King Ecole Internationale de Chant.” He has had the pleasure over the years of seeing many of his students excel as singers on a professional level, and some going on to become national celebrities. He continues to coach young singers today, in his spare time.
His debut jazz album was entitled “Home,” and was a collection of contemporary compositions he composed, with lyrics written by his wife Jeanne King. His second album was a Duo (Voice and Guitar) with Eric Sempé on the guitar. This album included original songs as well as well known standards from contemporary jazz and pop artists. The “King-Sempé” duo toured France and thrilled audiences for more than three years before going their separate ways. King has formed a new duo with French/Greek guitarist Manolis, and is now exploring new ideas, in a smooth jazz/soul/folk direction.
In addition to singing and composing, King has been collaborating with author Sally Cronin over the past few years on her blog “Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life,” with the series “A Man And His Music – Jazz, Contemporary, Classical, and Legends” and now, the “William Price King Music Column.” Working with author Sally Cronin has been an exhilarating experience in many ways and has brought a new dimension to King’s creative life. King has also created a micro blog, “Improvisation,” which features and introduces mostly jazz artists from across the jazz spectrum who have made considerable contributions in the world of jazz; and also artwork from painters who have made their mark in the world of art. This micro blog can be found on Tumblr.
His vocal mentors are two of the greatest giants in jazz, Nat King Cole and Mel Tormé. King has a distinctive wide-ranging voice which displays a remarkable technical facility and emotional depth.
My thanks to William for the amazing artists he has brought to the blog and thank you for dropping in today. As always your feedback is very welcome.