Tag Archives: Barbra Streisand history

“Memory & Cats”

Logo for "Cats" of 1981, one of the longest running stage productions in recent history.
Logo for "Cats" of 1981, one of the longest running stage productions in recent history.
     In the stage production of Cats there is the very poignant song, “Memory,” performed by the aging female feline, Grizabella — a cat who has seen better days.  The famous 1981 musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber was originally produced in London.  Since then, Cats has become one of the theater’s all-time box office success stories, with “Memory” remaining as one of its most beloved and signature tunes.  In the original production, Elaine Paige sang “Memory” as Grizabella, and her version of the song became a Top Ten hit in 1981 with the single reaching No. 5 on the U.K. charts in July 1981.  The song has since been recorded by more than 160 artists. 

     The sample MP3 version of “Memory” offered below is by Barbra Streisand, from her 1981 album, Memories.  The Streisand single of “Memory,” released in 1982, reached No. 52 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, No. 9 on the Billboard adult contemporary chart, and No. 34 in the U.K.  Lyrics for the song also appear further down the page in a separate sidebar.  Rough videos of Streisand singing “Memory” in the studio circa 1981 are found at You Tube and other sources.  More on “Memory” and its lyrics in a moment.  First some background on Cats and Grizabella.

Elaine Paige as the original Grizabella.
Elaine Paige as the original Grizabella.

     Cats is based in part on the works of poet T. S. Eliot, and his Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. As a child, Andrew Lloyd Webber had been read Eliot’s poems by his mother. Sometime in the 1970s, he picked up a copy of Eliot’s poems and began ruminating on their use in his music. Over some years, the Cats production would gradually take form in Lloyd Webber’s mind. A number of the named Cats that would appear in Webber’s production have their origins in Eliot’s poetry. Grizabella, however, is not found in Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. But she does appear to be partly based on the woman mentioned in one part of Eliot’s poem, “Rhapsody on a Windy Night,” excerpted below. She is also the subject in some unpublished fragments of Eliot’s work titled, “Grizabella the Glamour Cat.”

In the Cats musical, in any case, Grizabella becomes a prominent and poignant character. She is named the “Glamour Cat,” something of misnomer it turns out, since she is typically depicted in the production as a silvery blue-gray queen cat with tattered fur — a cat, quite frankly, who has seen better days.

Grizabella Origins
T.S. Eliot

(1) “Rhapsody on a Windy Night”

…Remark the cat
Who hesitates toward you in the light of the door
Which opens on her like a grin.
You see the border of her coat is torn
Is torn and stained with sand,
And you see the corner of her eye
Twists like a crooked pin.”

(2) “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat”*

She haunted many a low resort
Near the grimy road of Tottenham Court;
She flitted about the No Man’s Land
From The Rising Sun to The Friend at Hand.
And the postman sighed, as he scratched his head:
“You’d really ha’ thought she’d ought to be dead
And who would ever suppose that that
Was Grizabella, the Glamour Cat!”
* from an unpublished fragment by T.S. Eliot.

     Grizabella does not have a clearly stated backstory in Cats.  However, at some point in her life, she appears to have become enamored with the glamorous life and left her group, the Jellicle Tribe, to pursue that course. 

Jellicle is a term also taken from T. S. Eliot’s work, introduced in his poem Song of the Jellicles, describing cats that are peaceful and pleasant by day, but who also love an active nightlife. Jellicles are also featured and named in the Cats musical.

     Grizabella appears in the play returning to the Jellicle group. After a time in the glamorous world, she became disillusioned with her new lifestyle and fell upon hard times. 

According to some interpretations, she may have even descended into prostitution, or as one reviewer later put it, “a fallen feline who has roamed the lowest alleys.” 

In any case, Grizabella returns home to find that the majority of her former Jellicle group are disgusted, ashamed, and afraid of her. 

Upon her return later, she sings “Memory,” revisiting the old days when she was young and beautiful — then a real “glamour cat.”  The song is also part appeal to the group, as Grizabella wants to begin a new life.

Barbra Streisand

Not a sound from the pavement.
Has the moon lost her memory,
She is smiling alone.
In the lamplight
The withered leaves collect at my feet,
And the wind begins to moan.

All alone in the moonlight;
I can dream of the old days,
Life was beautiful then.
I remember the time I knew what
happiness was;
Let the memory live again.

Every street lamp seems to beat
A fatalistic warning.
Someone mutters and the
street lamp sputters,
And soon it will be morning.

I must wait for the sunrise.
I must think of a new life,
And I mustn’t give in.
When the dawn comes,
Tonight will be a memory, too.
And a new day will begin.

Burnt out ends of smoky days,
The stale cold smell of a morning.
A street lamp dies, another night is over;
Another day is dawning

Touch me,
It is so easy to leave me
All alone with the memory
Of my days in the sun.
If you touch me,
You’ll understand what happiness is.
Look, a new day has begun…

     Unbeknownst to Grizabella, Old Deuteronomy, the leader of the Jellicle group, overhears her and decides that she should be welcomed back and forgiven.  In fact, he decides that Grizabella is the one cat worthy to travel to the Heaviside Layer — the place where Grizabella can be reborn (they all have nine lives, you know).  In the musical, one cat is chosen each year by Old Deuteronomy to go to the Heaviside Layer and begin a new life.  One song in the production is titled, “Journey to the Heaviside Layer.”  In the end, Grizabella is forgiven by all and ascends to the Heaviside Layer.

Music Player
“Memory” – Barbra Streisand

     “Memory,” meanwhile, is a very powerful song, with broad appeal, even to those who have never seen the play.  And for those who have, the song is attached to the imagery of the production and its storyline.  But “Memory,” in any case, has deep emotional reach, appealing to certain universal truths and longings in many of its listeners — to that deep well of nostalgia, the longing backward glance, the wistful remembrance of nimble youth, and the feelings of vulnerability that come with aging.  “Memory,” in short, provides a lot of reminiscent latitude, accounting no doubt for the song’s popular appeal.

Song History

     “Memory,” it turns out, was a last-minute creation for the Cats production.  Lloyd Webber’s usual way of working on a song was to first to create a melody and then add lyrics.  And he very much wanted to compose melodies for Eliot’s poems that he loved.  In the course of the musical’s development, T.S Eliot’s widow, Valerie, gave Trevor Nunn and Cameron Mackintosh — director and producer of the project — additional manuscripts her husband had written. Among these were poems and fragments Eliot had not included in his published work, fearing they might be too unsettling or inappropriate for children. One of these was the poem fragment, “Grizabella the Glamour Cat” shown earlier above, which became an inspiration for Webber and team.

Betty Buckley as Grizabella.
Betty Buckley as Grizabella.
     Still, according to one account, two weeks before the opening of Cats in May 1981, Webber was concerned that his show lacked a big hit song.  So, he went back to work in his normal habit of writing the melody first before a lyric was created.  With the melody done, Trevor Nunn then went to work on the lyrics. Nunn is believed to have used T. S. Eliot’s “Rhapsody on a Windy Night” and “Preludes” in crafting the final lyrics for Grizabella’s song.  In any case, it all came together with “Memory” ready for the opening.

     In the musical, “Memory” is performed briefly in the first act and in its entirety near the end of the show, at the climax, as Grizabella delivers her nostalgic remembrance of her glorious past along with her plea to start life anew.  It is by far the musical’s most popular and well-known song.

     Elaine Paige was the original Grizabella in London in 1981 and also played the Glamour Cat in the 1998 video, which reportedly became one of the best-selling music videos in America and the U.K.  The original version of “Memory,” re-recorded with the video, rose again to No. 36 on the U.K. music charts in October 1998.  Betty Buckley was the first to play Grizabella on Broadway.  Laurie Beechman played Grizabella at New York’s Winter Garden Theater in the latter 1980s and was also first to play the part with a U.S. touring company.  Linda Balgord played the role on Broadway in 2000.

Tricia Tanguy playing Grizabella in a 2008 road production of “Cats.”
Tricia Tanguy playing Grizabella in a 2008 road production of “Cats.”

Cats’ Success

     Cats, meanwhile, became a wildly successful theater production.  It first opened in London’s West End in 1981 and then on Broadway in 1982.  The London production of Cats ran for 21 years and the Broadway production ran for 18, both setting long-run records.  It played 8,949 performances in London and held the record there as longest running musical until October 2006 when it was surpassed by Les Misérables

On Broadway, at the Winter Garden Theater, Cats set the longest-running record in June 1997, playing a total 7,485 performances before its final show in September 2000. Only The Phantom of the Opera, also an Andrew Lloyd Webber production, had more performances.  As of early 2010, Cats remained Broadway’s second longest-running show in history. 

Lloyd Webber, in fact, had quite a run of successful shows in the 1980s and beyond.  At one point in December 1990, two of his musicals, Cats and The Phantom of the Opera — along with Les Misérables by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil — were grossing about $1.5 million a week.  These three were then the longest-running shows on Broadway, each also playing in London at the time.

The cast from a December 2007 production of  "Cats" at the Roma Musical Theater in Warsaw, Poland.
The cast from a December 2007 production of "Cats" at the Roma Musical Theater in Warsaw, Poland.
     By 1997, when Cats eclipsed Chrous Line as the longest running musical on Broadway, it was also pumping a sizeable sum of money into the New York economy.  A study done for Cats by one marketing group at that time found the musical had contributed $3.12 billion to the city’s economy, most of it through foreign tourism, and more than $195 million in state and local taxes.  “Compare that to the economic impact of the World Series last year [1996], which was $34 million,” said George Wachtel, who carried out the Cats study and who has surveyed audiences at the musical over the years.

     In 1998, Lloyd Webber produced a video version of Cats, based upon the stage version, released on VHS and DVD.  Cats has been translated into more than 20 languages and has been performed around the world many times.  The production has also been broadcast on television worldwide. 

Promotional photo for "Cats" production.
Promotional photo for "Cats" production.
     “Over the last 17 years,” wrote New York Times reporter Peter Marks in November 1998, “[Cats‘] productions have been performed in 26 countries to an aggregate audience of 50 million people, who have bought $2 billion worth of tickets.”  Cats and its music have also helped turn some new discoverers of its story to exploring the works of T.S. Elliott. 

     Grizabella and “Memory”, meanwhile, continue to hold a favored place in the hearts of many music fans and theater goers.  In 1998, the Times’ Peter Marks described the song as having joined other “enduring melodies,” such as “Shall We Dance?,” “Maria,” and “Send in the Clowns” in “the pantheon of immortal show tunes.”

     For more stories at this website on the history of music and/or film, please visit those respective category pages, or go to the Archive or Home pages for additional story choices.  Thanks for visiting — and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website. Thank you – Jack Doyle


Date Posted: 19 July 2010
Last Update: 25 November 2016
Comments to:  jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Memory & Cats, 1981-2010,”
PopHistoryDig.com, July 19, 2010.


Sources, Links & Additional Information

"Cats" production photo.
"Cats" production photo.
"Cats" promotional photo.
"Cats" promotional photo.

Mel Gussow, “London to Broadway — From ‘Nickelby’ to ‘Cats’,” New York Times, July 26, 1981.

Carol Lawson, “Broadway; Eliot’s Book of Cats about to Have New Life as a Musical,” New York Times, Friday, December 11, 1981, p. C-2.

“‘Cats,’ a Hit in London, Sets Broadway Dates,” New York Times, April 21, 1982.

Frank Rich, “Stage: London’s ‘Cats,’ a New Webber Musical,” New York Times, June 22, 1982.

“Cats” and “Memory,” Wikipedia.org.

History of The Creation of ‘Memory’,” estherstilwell.com

“Grizabella,” Catanna.com.

Grizabella” and “Elaine Page,” Wiki- pedia.org.

Richard Corliss, Elaine Dutka, “Show Business: Making the Cats Meow,” Time, Monday, September 27, 1982.

T.E. Kalem, “Theater: O That Anthro- pomorphical Rag,” Time, Monday, October 18, 1982.

John Rockwell, “Andrew Lloyd Webber Superstar,” New York Times, December 20, 1987.

Mervyn Rothstein, “For ‘Cats,’ Nine Is the One to Celebrate,” New York Times, October 7, 1991.

William Grimes, “With 6,138 Lives, ‘Cats’ Sets Broadway Mark,” New York Times, June 19, 1997.

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Peter Marks, “Cover Story; Broadway’s ‘Cats’: Restaged for Eternity (And We Thought They Were Kidding!),” New York Times, November 1, 1998.

T. S. Eliot, “Rhapsody on a Windy Night,” originally printed in Blast, July 1915.

Gary Smith, “A Purr-fect Grizabella,” The Hamilton Spectator (Hamilton, New York), February 11, 2008 (photo of Tricia Tanguy as Grizabella).

Mervyn Rothstein, “The Musical Is Money to His Ears,” New York Times, December 9, 1990.


“Streisand Rising”

Barbra Streisand during rehearsal for 'Funny Girl' in New York City, January 1964. (AP photo)
Barbra Streisand during rehearsal for 'Funny Girl' in New York City, January 1964. (AP photo)
     Between 1963 and 1965, at a time when rock and roll music was overwhelming just about everything in sight, a little known singer named Barbra Streisand managed to put not just one, but seven albums of American standards on the Billboard top-selling music charts.  How this came to be, and the story of Streisand’s rise to stardom in those years, is sometimes overlooked in her long and accomplished career.

     Born in 1942 and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Barbra Streisand had a tough start in childhood.  Her father, a grammar school teacher, died when she was 15 months old.  Her mother — left with young Barbra and an older son Sheldon — took a job as a bookkeeper and moved in with her parents.  As a little girl growing up, Barbra sang in the hallways of her apartment building.  “Barbra started to sing as early as she could talk,” her mother later recalled.  Young Barbra set her sights on becoming an actress, framed in part by what she saw on television.  In 1949, her mother remarried, to Louis Kind — a step-father of conflict for Barbra and not a happy time. A sister, Roslyn, was born in 1951. 

Young Barbra, 1950s.
Young Barbra, 1950s.
    In school, Barbra sang in the choir, got good grades, but did not date or seek to be popular and was pretty much a loner.  She worked part-time jobs — at a Chinese restaurant and as an usherette in a local theater, the latter to see the latest films.  She kept to her dream of becoming an actress, attended local playhouses and summer acting camps. Barbra’s mother did not encourage her daughter to pursue a career in show business. In fact, she told Barbra she was not attractive enough to succeed. However, she did take her once to audition as a child, and also later to make acetate recordings in Manhattan.

     In 1959, Barbra graduated high school, fourth in her class, but did not attend college.  With her sights set on acting, she moved to Manhattan.  She was 17 years old.


Vagabond Days

Barbra Streisand at the Bon Soir nightclub, 1960.
Barbra Streisand at the Bon Soir nightclub, 1960.

     During her early days in Manhattan, Streisand occasionally lived with friends, carrying a folding cot around.  She was something of a vagabond and dressed in the latest thrift-store chic.  She worked odd jobs and tried to enter the famous Actors Studio, but failed.  She tried some off-Broadway acting, appearing in one play that ran only a few times.  Although her heart was set on acting, in June 1960 she entered and won a singing competition at a local Greenwich Village bar, the Lion, with no singing experience.  “They laughed when she stood up to the microphone,” Pete Hamill would later write of the audience’s reaction to her clothes and her first club appearance, “but when she sang there was no contest.” “They laughed when she stood up to the micro-phone, but when she sang there was no contest.”  
                      – Pete Hamill
She then put together a night club act with the help of a friend and began performing in other Greenwich Village gay bars, such as The Bon Soir, where she was well received.  By 1961, she began venturing beyond Manhattan, appearing in clubs such as the Caucus Club in Detroit, the Crystal Palace in St Louis, and the Town and Country Towers room in Winnipeg, Canada.  Those who heard her sing were quite taken by her performances and her voice.  But not everyone understood or appreciated her interpretations.  A few early reviewers called her quirky, but one noted “a confidence beyond her years”and predicted that despite her unusual singing style and vintage clothes, she could go “right to the top.”  Back in Manhattan she was attracting a growing following at clubs such as the Bon Soir and the Blue Angel, and in some corners of the music industry. While club performing, she met Jack Paar, the late-night TV talk show host, who asked her to appear on his show.  She made her national TV debut on The Jack Paar Show April 5th, 1961 and made a second appearance on May 22, 1961.

Fall 1962: Barbra Streisand during auditioning days, while trying out for new Broadway shows.
Fall 1962: Barbra Streisand during auditioning days, while trying out for new Broadway shows.

Mike Wallace & Broadway

     Streisand also began appearing on a late night New York-based TV talk show called PM East, a show that Group W and Westinghouse created to compete with Jack Parr.  One of the hosts of that show was Mike Wallace, later of 60 Minutes fame, but with whom Streisand struck a chord.  Her first show there was in July 1961, and she became something of regular, appearing more than a dozen times through 1961 and 1962.  On the show, in addition to singing, she also became known as a talkative and sometimes zany guest, engaging Wallace and the others in lively exchanges. By December 1961, she had also prepared an audition tape of her club songs for RCA Records, but no contract was offered.

    In 1961, after Broadway auditions in the late fall, she landed a small acting and singing part as a secretary in the musical, I Can Get It For You Wholesale, a Depression-era story about an unscrupulous businessman in the garment district. 

When the show opened on Broadway on March 22, 1962, Streisand had the stage to herself in one scene doing a song and skit bemoaning her secretarial plight. She gave a spirited performance, which by one account brought audience attendee Leonard Bernstein to his feet applauding wildly. Bernstein was sitting in the VIP orchestra section that night, and the audience agreed with his reaction, giving Streisand a sustained ovation for her performance. 

“What we had witnessed, and what brought Bernstein’s enthusiasm,” wrote John Bush Jones, also in the audience that night, “was the Broadway debut of an unknown nineteen-year-old performer named Barbra Streisand.” Streisand was later nominated for, but did not win, a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.

Barbra Streisand signing recording contract with Columbia's Goddard Lieberson, Oct 1962.
Barbra Streisand signing recording contract with Columbia's Goddard Lieberson, Oct 1962.
     Streisand continued making TV appearances during 1962 — NBC’s Today Show in April 1962, CBS’s The Garry Moore Show in May 1962, and four times on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson between August and early December 1962. Her recording career was also taking a turn for the better.

By the fall of 1962, three record labels were interested: Atlantic, Capitol, and Columbia. Capitol made an offer, but Streisand agreed to sign with Columbia on October 1st, negotiating creative control over her material and album covers. That fall she was also auditioning for new Broadway shows. But it was her appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show December 16, 1962 singing “My Coloring Book” and “Lover, Come Back To Me” that helped introduce Barbra Streisand to a larger, more mainstream national audience.


Barbra Streisand's 1st studio album, Feb 1963.
Barbra Streisand's 1st studio album, Feb 1963.
    On February 25, 1963, her first studio album for Columbia Records was released, The Barbra Streisand Album, which included her interpretations of eleven pop standards.  The album was very well received and first appeared on the Billboard albums chart the week of April 13, 1963.  It would peak at #8 on that chart and 18 months later achieved “gold” sales status — i.e., 500,000 copies or more.  It would also win 1963 Grammy Awards for Album of The Year and Best Female Vocalist.

One of the album’s songs, “Happy Days Are Here Again,” wasn’t much more than a jingle before Streisand’s interpretation — “sung so slowly that suddenly all the hidden irony and banality of it come shaking out like loose nails,” wrote one reporter in Time magazine. The Barbra Streisand Album, meanwhile, remained in the Top 40 for 74 weeks.

Barbra Streisand meeting JFK at White House Press Correspondents dinner, May 1963.
Barbra Streisand meeting JFK at White House Press Correspondents dinner, May 1963.
          Through the spring of 1963, she continued doing the night club circuit — Miami’s Eden Roc, The hungry i in San Francisco, and Basin Street East in New York where she opened for bandleader Benny Goodman. TV appearances continued as well — Johnny Carson in early March 1963, a repeat appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, March 24, 1963, and The Dinah Shore Show, May 12, 1963. 

Among those who saw Streisand’s performance on Dinah Shore was President John F. Kennedy, resulting in an invitation for her to sing at the White House Press Correspondents Dinner on May 24, 1963, when she met Kennedy. Columbia Records, meanwhile, in April, had re-released Streisand’s “Happy Days” song for radio play to gain her more public exposure. 

By July 1963, a young Pete Hamill was writing about Streisand’s rising star — “Goodbye Brooklyn, Hello Fame” — in The Saturday Evening Post.  That summer, she landed the role to play the famed comedienne Fanny Brice in the Broadway musical Funny Girl, slated to open in early 1964.

Barbra Streisand's 2nd studio album, Aug 1963.
Barbra Streisand's 2nd studio album, Aug 1963.
     The Second Barbra Streisand Album was released in August 1963, surpassing the first, jumping into the Top Ten on the Billboard charts and peaking at No. 2. The record stayed at the No. 2 spot for three weeks and was certified gold after 13 months. By late September 1963, after completing a good month of performances at Hollywood’s Cocoanut Grove, Barbra Streisand was commanding a nightclub salary of $15,000 a week. Throughout 1963, she had played at clubs all across the country. Reported Look magazine that November:

“From coast to coast, hypnotized patrons line up outside nightclubs to hear her almost overwhelming presentations of such items as ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’ and ‘Cry Me a River’.  She puts every nerve ending, muscle tendon and female oomph unit she has into a song; at the end of an evening, the audience is washed out.”

Two major TV appearances came as well — one on NBC’s Bob Hope Comedy Special, broadcast September 27, 1963 and the other on October 6, 1963 on The Judy Garland Show (CBS).  Her performance on Judy Garland’s show would earn Streisand an Emmy nomination for Best Variety Performance, the first time a guest star had ever received such an honor.

     In mid-January 1964, Funny Girl had its first public showing in Boston, but it bombed, in part because of a snow storm, but also poor reviews. The play was reworked by Jerome Robbins, who gave Streisand more songs and comedy, placing more of the show’s success or failure on her performance. Meanwhile, her third album — simply titled The Third Album — was released in February 1964. The cover featured a photo of Streisand performing from The Judy Garland Show. This album was also a hit, reaching No.5 on Billboard’s album chart. It also certified gold.

'Saturday Evening Post', 21 March 1964.
'Saturday Evening Post', 21 March 1964.
Rock ‘n Roll

     Streisand was pumping out her repertoire of old standards at a time when the rock ‘n roll revolution was underway. The market for rock ‘n roll music was exploding, transforming the industry and changing popular culture.  In the early 1960s, “girl groups” such as the Shirelles and Crystals were prominent on the singles charts, and by 1963, the Angels, the Chiffons, and Martha and Vandellas were making their mark.  Jan & Dean, the Four Seasons, Little Stevie Wonder, and the Supremes had hits too.  In 1964, the Beatles took over much of the popular scene, following their February 9th appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show  — the first of three.  By early April 1964, Beatles singles held the top five spots on Billboard’s Hot 100 — among them, “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and “Please, Please Me.” Other artists, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, the Beach Boys, and various Motown groups, were also cranking out new songs and albums.  But Streisand’s standards held their own, especially on the Billboard albums chart.  And there was more to come.

Funny Girl Fame

Barbra Streisand, star of 'Funny Girl,' Time cover story, 10 April 1964.
Barbra Streisand, star of 'Funny Girl,' Time cover story, 10 April 1964.
     By late March 1964 Funny Girl had opened on Broadway and the play and Barbra Streisand received glowing notices.  She was later nominated a second time for a Tony award — Best Actress in a Musical.  In early April 1964, Capitol Records — not her label, Columbia — recorded the original cast album for Funny Girl in New York.  Most of the songs on the 17-track album were those of Streisand’s from the play.  Capitol rush-released the album in mid-April 1964 and it quicky sold 400,000 copies in one month, making it the fastest selling Capitol record up to that time.  Then she appeared on the cover of Time’s April 10th edition, featured in a story simply titled “The Girl,” touting her acting and singing talents in Funny Girl.  “Her impact was instant and stunning,” wrote Time of her performance, adding, however, that her looks were nothing special. But her on-stage moxie was.  “People start to nudge one another and say, ‘This girl is beautiful,'” explained Time, describing how early audiences were discovering her.  Streisand knew she didn’t have the knock-out good looks that might smooth her way to stardom.  Some even suggested she have a surgeon attend to her nose, to which she replied: “That would be cheating. It wouldn’t be natural, know what I mean?” With Streisand it was the talent, the voice, and the energy that came through. The glamour soon arrived as well.

Barbra Streisand, Life magazine cover story, 22 May 1964.
Barbra Streisand, Life magazine cover story, 22 May 1964.
     In May 1964, she was on the cover of Life magazine, featured in a story with her then husband, actor Elliot Gould, whom she had met in I Can Get It For Your Wholesale.  Wrote reporter Shana Alexander in her profile: “Today, Barbra Streisand is. . .Cinderella at the ball, every hopeless kid’s hopeless dream come true. . . Even more remarkable is the sudden nationwide frenzy to achieve the Streisand ‘look'” — from hair style to eye make-up.  By late June 1964, Barbra Streisand had signed a $5 million deal with CBS. By late June 1964, Barbra Streisand had signed a $5 million deal with CBS to do as many as ten TV music specials. Meanwhile, her album People, released on September 1, 1964, knocked the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night album out of the No.1 spot. The People album also won Streisand her 2nd consecutive Grammy for Best Female Vocalist. By October 31, 1964 — a time when the rock and roll genre was growing and getting stronger — there were five Barbra Streisand albums on the Billboard albums chart.

     In addition to competing with Beatles’ albums, such as A Hard Day’s Night which had been released in June, there were also a number of other rising contemporary artists at that time with new albums. Among rock `n roll artists with new releases then, for example, were: the Beach Boys with All Summer Long in mid-July; Bob Dylan and The Animals from the U.K. with new albums in August; The Kinks’ and Rolling Stones had new releases in October; and the debut album of Simon & Garfunkel, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. came that month as well. Sam Cooke’s Ain’t That Good News appeared in December 1964.

Streisand's 1964 single 'People' hit No. 5.
Streisand's 1964 single 'People' hit No. 5.

Music Player
“People”-Barbra Streisand

Still, amid all this popular competition, Streisand’s work continued to rise in the popular arena. Her release of the single “People,” for example, climbed into the Top 40 in late May 1964, peaking at No. 5. It was her first Top 40 hit, and it remained on the Top 40 list for 12 weeks, through August. It was also a No. 1 hit on the Pop Standards chart, also known as the Adult Contemporary chart, holding forth there through June and July 1964.


LBJ & CBS Special

     In 1965, Streisand began the year by entertaining newly elected President Lyndon Johnson at the Democratic Inaugural Gala on January 18th in Washington, D.C.  On April 4th she attended a civil rights fundraiser in Selma, Alabama where she sang “That’s A Fine Kind of Freedom.” A week later, at the Grammys she took home the Best Female Vocalist award for “People.”At a civil rights fundraiser in Selma, Alabama she sang “That’s A Fine Kind of Freedom.” A week after that, on April 14th, she completed the taping for her first TV production, “My Name Is Barbra,” a one-woman musical special entirely her own show without any guest stars.  Some people at CBS feared the program would be a disaster. When it aired on April 28th, the critics loved it and it earned high audience ratings (For a time on YouTube, a clip of Streisand singing a fine rendition of “Happy Days” at the end of the show was available, since taken down). The CBS TV special was followed by the companion album, My Name Is Barbra, released in May 1965. A single from the this album, “My Man,” released in June 1965, made the Billboard Hot 100 in July, peaking at No. 79 and remained on the chart for six weeks. Her first TV show meanwhile, was nominated for five Emmy Awards, winning all five at the September ceremony, including two for Streisand herself.

Barbra Streisand's 1965 single makes Billboard in July.
Barbra Streisand's 1965 single makes Billboard in July.
     Musically in 1965, the rock ‘n roll juggernaut was as strong as ever.  Among artists with No.1 hits that year were: The Beatles, The Supremes, Petula Clark, The Righteous Brothers, The Temptations, The Beach Boys, The Four Tops, The Byrds, Sonny & Cher, The Rolling Stones, and others.  Many of these groups had top albums as well.  In the midst of this, Streisand’s second album in 1965 – My Name is Barbra, Two – was released in October.  It made the Billboard album chart in November, peaking at #2.  It would also sell 500,000 copies and reach gold certification within three months and remain on the charts for 48 weeks.

     On December 1st, 1965, Streisand’s career took a new turn, as she signed her first film contract — a four-picture deal beginning with the film adaptation of Funny Girl, which would not reach the big screen until 1968. Meanwhile, her albums were selling like crazy, and would continue to sell through the 1960s, boosted in part by her TV specials. During the decade, nine of her albums would reach the Top 10.

Barbra Streisand
Albums: 1963-65

The Barbra Streisand Album
February 1963

The Second Barbra Streisand Album
August 1963

Barbra Streisand: The Third Album
February 1964

Funny Girl (Broadway cast album)
April 1964

September 1964

My Name is Barbra
May 1965

My Name is Barbra, Two
October 1965


Just Getting Started

     In six short years Barbara Streisand had taken the entertainment world by storm. From her early vagabond days of carrying a folding cot around in 1960, to entertaining at the White House and launching her own TV specials in 1965, Barbara Streisand had rocketed to the top of popular music, Broadway, and prime-time television. She was now 23 years old, a millionaire, and one of the world’s most popular female recording artists. But there was still much more to come. There were 30 or more albums ahead, a career in film (acting, directing and producing), mega concerts, political activism, and a whole lot more. Barbra Streisand was just getting started.

See also at this website, “Memory & Cats”, which includes Streisand singing the poignant song “Memory” from the hit play, Cats. Additional stories on music can be found at the “Annals of Music” page, and for famous women and their careers see “Noteworthy Ladies,” a topics page with 40 story choices in that category. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle


October 1965 - 'My Name is Barbra, Two'.
October 1965 - 'My Name is Barbra, Two'.

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Date Posted: 10 May 2008
Last Update: 19 March 2018
Comments to:

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Streisand Rising, 1961-1965,”
PopHistoryDig.com, May 10, 2008.


Sources, Links & Additional Information

1963: Barbra Streisand, with then husband Elliott Gould, Beverly Hills Hotel pool. Photo, Bob Willoughby.
1963: Barbra Streisand, with then husband Elliott Gould, Beverly Hills Hotel pool. Photo, Bob Willoughby.

Barbra Streisand’s Official Website.

“Barbra Streisand, 29th AFI Life Achievement Award,” American Film Institute, 2001, AFI.com

John Bush Jones, Our Musicals, Ourselves: A Social History of The American Musical Theater; Brandeis University Press, 2003.

Pete Hamill, “Good-Bye Brooklyn, Hello Fame,” Saturday Evening Post, July 27, 1963.

“Barbra Streisand: New Singing Sensation,” Look, November 19, 1963.

Shana Alexander, “A Born Loser’s Success and Precarious Love,” Life, May 22, 1964 (cover story with cover & inside photos by Milton H. Greene).

Earl Wilson, “Barbra Streisand’s Secret, Once a Chinese Waitress, Reno Evening Gazette, April 1, 1964, p. 16.

James Spada Barbra: The First Decade, the Films and Career of Barbra Streisand, Citadel Press, 1975.

James Spada, Streisand: The Woman and The Legend, Doubleday, 1981.

Randall Riese, Her Name Is Barbra, Birch Lane Press, 1993.

James Spada, Streisand: The Intimate Biography; Time Warner Paperbacks,1996.

Barry Dennen, My Life With Barbra: A Love Story, Prometheus Books, 1997.

Diana Karanikas Harvey and Jackson Harvey, Streisand: The Pictorial Biography, Running Press Book Publishers, 1997.

James Spada, Streisand: Her Life, Random House Value Publishing, 1997.

Barbra Streisand,” Wikipedia.org.

The Barbra Streisand Music Guide,” BJSMusic.com.

Barbra Streisand: The Early TV Appearances,” Barbra-Archives.com.

The Streisand Story,” BarbraFile.com.