Everyone has to begin somewhere. At the age of nineteen, Barbra Streisand’s starting point was the Bon Soir nightclub in New York. In her book, “My Name Is Barbra,” she recalls, “The Bon Soir was a typical nightclub in Greenwich Village … it was small, dimly lit, and you had to descend a flight of stairs to enter. The waiters even carried small flashlights because it was so dark.”
James Gavin, the author of the book on New York’s cabaret scene during the 1960s, described it as an exclusive environment that required insider knowledge to access. Those who were present were all partaking in a shared experience of discovery, which added to the excitement of seeing performers like Barbra Streisand in these clubs. It was a feeling of being part of something extraordinary that was unfolding right before their eyes.
The clubs served as small experiments where many influential individuals in American pop culture discovered their unique voices. According to Gavin, these spots were safe havens for outcasts. “Earth Kitt, Phyllis Diller, Johnny Mathis, Woody Allen – these were people who didn’t belong anywhere else. Another prime example is Carol Burnett, who gained a devoted following before skyrocketing to fame. But the ultimate illustration of this type of performer is Barbra Streisand.”
In 1965, Barbra Streisand performed a medley of songs from Act II of her album “My Name is Barbra.” Streisand
A few days, you are like Barbra Streisand. on YouTube
These unique shows went against the norm, not only because Streisand performed a soft-shoe routine with penguins in one of them. Rocca commented, “It was unprecedented for a 23-year-old to have a full hour special on network television back then, and to do it without any guests or support. She could have easily invited someone like Bob Hope to join her and provide some backup, but she chose not to.”
According to Stephen Holden, a former music and film critic for the New York Times who covered Streisand for many years, she was aware of her immense power. He believes there was and still is no one else comparable to her.
According to Rocca, in her initial performances, it appears that she is not seeking the audience’s validation.
Holden chuckled, “She’s insisting on it!”
The specials were very successful in terms of ratings. Her first one received five Emmy awards. When accepting the award, she expressed her surprise at the large number of viewers who tuned in to watch her special within one hour. She calculated that it would take her 58 years of working in the theater production of “Funny Girl” to reach the same number of people.
Streisand’s rise to fame was particularly unexpected given the timing. In 1965, amid The Beatles’ explosion onto the music scene, Streisand was performing mostly songs from the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s. According to Morris, this was a significant detail, as The Beatles were dominating the charts while Streisand, a Brooklyn native, was gaining popularity by singing Tin Pan Alley and Great American Songbook classics.
Morris praised the way she transformed these songs, making them feel fresh and new. He added, “She has a talent for taking listeners on an emotional and musical journey.”
In her Central Park concert TV special in 1968, she performed a version of “Cry Me a River” where she portrays the heartbroken person whose former partner has returned.
According to Morris, the ability to fluctuate in pitch, like an EKG, is what sets great singers apart. It’s a response of the spirit to another’s spirit. He described this as the experience of observing her.
The term “icon” is frequently used nowadays, but Barbra Streisand is truly an icon.
View Barbra Streisand’s rendition of “Starting Here, Starting Now” on her 1966 television special, “Color Me Barbra.”
For more info:
This story was created by Kay Lim and edited by Mike Levine.