Barbra’s Beginnings (part one)
By Matt Howe / Barbra-Archives.com
Before Barbra Streisand removed the “a” from her name she was “Barbara.”
Barbara Streisand was born in Brooklyn, New York on April 24, 1942 to Emanuel Streisand, a teacher, and Diana Rosen Streisand, his wife. Barbara was their second child — Sheldon, her brother, was born seven years earlier. Sixteen months later, in August 1943, Emanuel Streisand suddenly died from the complications of an epileptic seizure. Diana moved her two children to her parents' 3-bedroom apartment on at 365 Pulaski Street in Williamsburg. Her father (Barbra's grandfather)—Louis Rosen—was blessed with a good singing voice, too. “He was really the one and only voice that I went by,” Diana said in 1980. “When I heard him sing in the house—cantorial pieces—I thought that there was no voice like that in the world! He had a voice. A terrific voice.”
Barbara, when she was 7 years old and attending an Orthodox girls yeshiva (the Yeshiva of Brooklyn), sang in public for the first time. “The yeshiva didn't have a stage,” Barbra recalled in 2012, “so we had to go to PS25, which was so fascinating for me to go to, you know, a normal public school and see this big stage that they had.” Barbra's principal, Mrs. Weisselberg, applauds for her in the photo below.
Barbra has said, "I was the kid on the block that didn't have a father but had a good voice."
Streisand told Katie Couric she remembered growing up in “this beautiful building with a brass banister” and an echo in the hallway. When she sang there, she thought to herself, “That sounds good.”
Barbra would harmonize on the apartment stoops to songs from the hit parade, including Joni James' hit single, "Have You Heard?"
Meanwhile, Barbara's mother met Louis Kind. They married and the family then moved into a federally financed housing project at 3102 Newkirk Avenue in Flatbush in 1950.
In 1951, Diana brought Barbara to MGM Records in New York to audition for a record contract. Barbra sang "Have You Heard?"
Streisand began suffering from tinnitus—which the American Tinnitus Association defines as “the perception of sound in the ears or head where no external source is present.” Barbra explained that “[the tinnitus started] the night my mother took me home from a Jewish camp. I was so miserable and homesick. I was a kid of the street— you know, parents hanging out of their windows and yelling at their kids. It was like a neighborhood. I was so alone in this place. I wouldn’t let my mother leave without me. She had to pack me up. I always felt that kind of power — like the power over my mother. She took me home to a new apartment. I didn’t know she had married a man. She never told me — or that she was pregnant.”
Barbara's half-sister, Rosalind [later, "Roslyn"] was born in 1951. Streisand did not like her new step-father, Louis Kind, and dreamed of escaping her home and Brooklyn. “I always wanted to get his approval and his love,” Streisand said, “but I couldn’t no matter what I did. My father was elegant, he was a scholar — this phantom father, you know. And this guy [Kind] liked the boxing matches. So one day I decided I’d call him Dad and crawl on my stomach underneath the TV so I wouldn’t interfere with his boxing when I passed. I groveled at his fucking feet and called him Dad and brought him his slippers for two days! There was no change. He didn’t treat me any better. He didn’t ask me how I was. He didn’t talk to me. He didn’t see me. He didn’t recognize me. He didn’t like me.”
Diana and Barbara (now, 13 years old) went to Nola Recording Studios in 1955 and recorded acetate records. Diana sang "One Kiss" and Barbara sang "Zing Went the Strings of My Heart" and "You'll Never Know." (This was dramatized by Barbra in her 2000 concert, Timeless.)
Barbara attended Erasmus Hall High School. “In school, I was a character,” Barbra recalled. “I was the wise guy. I always got good marks, so I was never in what you’d call real trouble, but everybody looked on me as the odd one. I used to dye my hair platinum blonde and wear strange color lipstick and eyeshadow. ”
After school, she worked at the Choy's Chinese restaurant. “It was a part-time job between my 12th and 16th birthdays. I started out baby-sitting for them and worked up to waitress and cashier,” Barbra said. “I showed people to their tables. Muriel Choy used to tell me about things. About love and life and sex. I loved idea of belonging to a small minority group. It was the world against us in the Chinese restaurant.”
The Diary of Anne Frank was the first Broadway show Barbara saw in 1956. Perhaps it was serendipity that Anne Frank was directed by Garson Kanin, who would eventually direct Barbra on Broadway in Funny Girl. “I was sitting way up high in the balcony,” Barbra said. “I identified tremendously with Anne. We were both Jewish, and we were both 14. I remember thinking that I could go up on the stage and play any role without any trouble at all.”
It was 1957, at age 15, when Barbara went away to perform in summer stock at Malden Bridge Playhouse. Later she was on stage at the Cherry Lane theater in Manhattan, the Clinton Playhouse in Connecticut, and the Garret Theater on 49th Street. She graduated from High School in 1959 and moved to Manhattan shortly after that.
“Brooklyn to me means the Loew’s Kings, Erasmus, the yeshiva I went to, the Dodgers, Prospect Park, great Chinese food. I’m so glad I came from Brooklyn — it’s down to earth,” Barbra said about her birthplace in 2012.