This Day in Jewish History / Barbra Streisand Signs Her First Record Deal

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Barbra Streisand performing in Tel Aviv's Hayarkon Park, June 20, 2013. Credit: AP

October 1, 1962, is the day that 20-year-old Barbra Streisand signed her first record contract. The LP that emerged from the deal, called simply “The Barbra Streisand Album,” was recorded in January 1963 and released a month later. Although it did not reach the top of the Billboard charts, it established Streisand overnight as a major new recording star, who was to quickly conquer Broadway, Hollywood and the small screen as well.

Barbara Joan Streisand was born on April 24, 1942, and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Her mother, Diana (formerly Ida) Rosen Streisand, was a former singer of Russian Jewish descent who worked as a school secretary. Her father, Emanuel Streisand, was an educator whose parents had emigrated from Galicia, Poland. He taught English at all levels in New York City schools. He was working on his Ph.D. in administration at Columbia Teachers College when he died suddenly, at age 35, when given a shot of morphine while suffering an epileptic episode.

Diana Streisand remarried in 1949 to a man whom her daughter later described as being “allergic to kids” (she was apparently being generous). Barbara attended primary school at the Yeshiva of Brooklyn, a girls’ school, and graduated in 1959 from Erasmus Hall High School, where she was in the Freshman Chorus.

Streisand had already recorded her first demo disc, paid for by her mother, in 1955, at age 13. After high school she moved to Manhattan, and, with her principal ambition to become an actress, began performing in summer stock and Off-Off-Broadway. Her friend Barry Dennen, who advised her at the beginning of her career, pointed Streisand to apply for singing jobs at bars principally patronized by gay men. And indeed, when she sang at The Lion in Greenwich Village, the response was so enthusiastic that a one-week engagement lasted three weeks. It was at this point that she dropped the second “a” from her first name.

Didn’t think she would sell

The gig at The Lion led to an invitation to sing at another New York club, Bon Soir, for 13 weeks at double the fee. That was followed by a variety of television appearances, some of them on national TV, and offers of recording contracts from both Capitol and RCA records. But Streisand’s manager, Marty Erlichman, wanted to hold out for a deal with Columbia Records, which was the ultimate label for a sophisticated female soloist.

Although Goddard Lieberson, Columbia’s highly regarded president, was pressed by colleagues to sign Streisand, he was reluctant to do so. He was not a fan of her style, and didn’t think she would sell. After he saw her interviewed by Mike Wallace on the CBS-TV show “PM East/PM West,” however, and after her supporting but much-talked-about performance as Miss Marmelstein in “I Can Get It for You Wholesale,” her Broadway debut in March 1962 (Time magazine described her character as “a marriage-proof secretary”), Lieberson relented.

On October 1, 1962, Lieberson and Columbia signed Streisand to a five-year contract, with the first year guaranteed and renewable each year after that. Erlichman negotiated a $20,000 advance for his client but his real achievement was his insisting on creative control, including choosing the songs she would record. Columbia also pledged to bring out a second record within six months.

Streisand went into the company’s recording studio with producer Mike Berniker on January 23, 1963 and came out two days later with 11 songs on tape, all of them covers of what were for the most part standards, including “Happy Days Are Here Again,” and “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” from the Disney cartoon “The Three Little Pigs.”

“The Barbra Streisand Album” appeared in stores on February 23 of that year. Although it peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard LP chart, it garnered Grammy Awards the following year for Album of the Year and Best Female Vocal Performance.

Barbra Streisand went on to release another 33 studio albums, the most recent being this year’s “Partners,” an album of duets with male singers alive and dead. Altogether, her records and discs have sold more than 245 million copies worldwide. Streisand lives in Malibu, California, with her husband, actor James Brolin.

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