Forest Hills Music Festival

Forest Hills

Queens, New York

July 12, 1964

August 8, 1965

Arial view of Forest Hills tennis stadium

(Above: Aerial view of the tennis stadium/music venue, circa 1970)

July 12, 1964 Show

Streisand sings at Forest Hills

Forest Hills, in Queens, New York, is home to the West Side Tennis Club and the Tennis Stadium where the U.S. Open was held for many years.

Forest Hills 1964 program

In the summers, the stadium held a music festival. Barbra Streisand was lured for a one-night-only performance — Sunday, her night off from Broadway's Funny Girl. Producers of the music festival reportedly paid her $32,000, plus $5.00. “The extra $5 was to make her fee higher than the Beatles will receive,” Leonard Lyons reported.

On July 12th, Streisand performed for 15,000 people. Her loyal pianist Peter Daniels conducted the orchestra for her, which was comprised of several pit musicians from Funny Girl.

Some of the songs Barbra sang at the July 12, 1964 show were:

“I went out to that tennis stadium in Forest Hills the other Sunday night because Barbra Streisand was giving a concert,” Barbra's Funny Girl costar Kay Medford told writer Whitney Bolton. Medford confessed she'd gone to see if Barbra was up to the challenge of concert performing. “So here's this youngster, just now turned 22, with only a character part in one Broadway musical on her slate, and then this walloping hit, walks out in the night air in front of several thousand people she never met before. A test. As she walked out a storm was starting and lightning, a big bolt of it, slashed across the sky ... This kid looks up at the sky and says, ‘But I haven't done anything yet.’ ...Then a wind blows and her white chiffon gown whips, something else that would disturb many a pro, and she laughs and says: ‘I told them they didn't have to bother with a wind machine ...’ Poise, total poise, and a quick mind to meet emergencies. Then she looked at the wide stretch of lawn between her platform and the seats and said, ‘I hope you people over there in Arkansas can hear me.’ Nothing throws this girl.”

Peter Daniels remembered the same large expanse between the stage and the audience. “We changed the program for the second half,” he said. “We opened with ‘People.’ We had to get it in there fast. She walked off the stage — all the way down — right into the center of the field, onto the wet grass. She was stringing the microphone cord behind her. She had been warned she could have been electrocuted on the wet grass, but she did it anyway. She had to win back the crowd. And she did. They jumped to their feet after that number.”

Her New York Times review of Streisand's Forest Hills concert by John Wilson was glowing:

BARBRA STREISAND took her night off from “Funny Girl,” in which she has been singing to packed houses since it opened in March, to sing to a sell-out audience of 15,000 at the Forest Hills Stadium yesterday. The skies were overcast and winds were swirling through the stadium when Miss Streisand mounted the uncovered stage. She was wearing a filmy creation in purple, blue and green, which blew blithely in the breeze and which she referred to as “this nightgown.”

But the threatening weather and the awesome dimensions of the stadium all seemed to disappear when she began to sing. She might have been in one of the small nightclubs where she got her start—the Bon Soir or the Blue Angel.

For Miss Streisand communicates. She communicates across yards and yards of beautifully manicured grass tennis courts and up through row on endless row of concrete seats.

[...] Much of Miss Streisand’s charm lies in her sense of the ridiculous, which enables her to transcend the mechanical difficulties that inevitably crop up when a person attempts to treat an audience of 15,000 as though it were just a handful in a dark little club. She wrestled with her microphone, climbed in and out of its wires, tried to avoid falling off the stage with an inventive humor that added immeasurably to her performance.

And when she sang, she was—barring one obstinate note that collapsed in her throat—perfection. Miss Streisand can apparently sing anything—the big, belting song, the subtle, underplayed song, the inadvertently or advertently funny song—and sing each song with such a fine sense of individuality that the performance seems definitive.

Most of the songs she sang last night were those she has become associated with through her nightclub performances and records. They included “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now,” “My Coloring Book,” “Cry Me a River,” “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf,” “Bewitched” and “When the Sun Comes Out.” She might just as well have sung anything else. It would probably have been just as wonderful.

The Forest Hills poster from 1964

And the L.A. Times noted, “In the middle of singing ‘Bewitched,’ when a helicopter put-putted overhead, she changed the lyrics to ‘bewitched and really bewildered.’”

Variety reported the one-night gig grossed $75,417, with ticket prices ranging from $1.95 to $5.95.

Below: Some of the inside pages of the Forest Hills program (courtesy the collection of Robert Traugh).

Forest Hills program


August 8, 1965 Show

Streisand on Forest Hills stage

A glowing review:

Barbra Streisand overwhelmed a capacity audience of 15,000 at the Forest Hills Stadium last night with the vocal arsenal that has made her a star of Broadway, records and television.

Always on pitch, with wondrous breath control, superb diction and an excellent sense of showmanship, she went from ballads to rhythm numbers, from crescendo to pianissimo and back with very little effort. Her gestures, which would have seemed extravagant in other singers, were as natural as her floor-length beaded gown and the Brooklyn accent used in asides to the delighted crowd.

Though the final product—her voice—is undoubtedly the result of careful and long work, Miss Streisand also possesses a glow and an unending exuberance that warms and captivates all audiences.

With a 35-man orchestra and exciting arrangements by Peter Matz, who conducted and played the piano, Miss Streisand was always the top-flight performer. In nearly two hours on stage, she offered songs that included “Why Did I Choose You?," "Down With Love," "When in Rome" and others from Broadway shows.

Throughout the night, both in her songs and in her bits of chit-chat with the audience, Miss Streisand effectively used the humor and gamin quality for which she is famous.

Good taste marked all of her interpretations. Even when she did bumps and grinds, they were always called for by the lyrics and were used mainly for comedy. With Miss Streisand even sex is wholesome.

As for her rhythmic sense, it never failed her, regardless of the song. She retained this wonderful beat in the softest pseudo-children's numbers as well as in the most metallic of sophisticated tunes.

Miss Streisand's only short-coming seemed to be a lack of subtlety. She used exclamation points too often when mere periods would have sufficed. Thus in "I Got Plenty of Nothin," her "belting" approach stripped the song of most of its emotion.

This, however, did not dampen the enthusiasm of the audience, which had ignored threatening weather. It gave her the sustained cheers her performance deserved.

Column about Streisand's concert

And this review from Billboard Magazine:

Barbra Streisand, the gifted girl with the Greenwich Village manner and the Londonderry air, was on target but failed to hit the bull's-eye at her West Side Tennis Club concert on Sunday.

One cannot fault her singing. She was in excellent vocal form, displaying the unique style, the clarity of tone, the range that makes her one of the great new stars in the musical firmament today. She sang some oldies such as I Got Plenty of Nuthin', When the Sun Comes Out, My Man and Fine and Dandy. She sang some newies from a forthcoming musical, Yearling, including When In Rome and Why Did I Choose You, and in between there were a few novelty-type tunes and humorous little anecdotes [...]

Neil Wolfe was introduced by Miss Streisand midway in the program. He is one of the best and most versatile pianists around. He has individuality, is nimble, swift and adept, with classical undertones [...]

One Streisand fan who attended the 1965 concert at Forest Hills remembered, “She was extremely late for the concert, and the audience was actually booing, with the poor warm-up band taking a lot of abuse. When she finally showed up (she said she was so late because of a photo shoot and all the costume changes she had to make for it), she was in such rare form, that she immediately made the entire audience forgive her. Later, she introduced a song she said had never been sung before. The song was ‘All That I Want’ (from her album My Name is Barbra, Two). And then she said it was by the leader of the warm-up band. An unforgettable moment.”

The leader of the warm-up band and composer of “All That I Want” was Neil Wolfe. Subsequently, Columbia Records produced a special tribute album for Barbra Streisand (Piano for Barbra), featuring Neil playing her hits on piano with an accompanying orchestra. In the liner notes of the album, Barbra wrote that Wolfe was “one of the most exciting pianist-composers I have ever met.”

Neil Wolfe's album of Streisand songs

Some of the songs which were sung at the August 8, 1965 show:

Newspaper ad for 1965 Forest Hills concert series

Below: Barbra Streisand's 1965 concert program, from Forest Hills.

Forest Hills concert program


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