Streisand Demos, Acetates
(Pre-Columbia Records Contract)

Nola record circa 1955

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The earliest known recording of Barbra Streisand was made when she was thirteen years old in 1955. Her mother paid for a recording session at Nola Recording Studios in New York . (Barbra dramatized this in the opening scene of her Timeless concert in 2000).

“My mother went first, but she could hardly get a chorus in edgewise,” Barbra wrote in 1991, “because the piano player kept launching into endless, elaborate refrains. As soon as he started that with me, I told him, ‘No, no we'll just do a little interlude and then I'll come back in.’”

Streisand sang two songs at Nola: “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” and “You'll Never Know.” The latter was included on her 1991 retrospective box set, Just For The Record. “Zing!” has never been officially released, although Barbra allowed an Australian television show to play a few seconds of it during an interview's commercial break.

Barbra's first official recording for a major label was on the cast album of I Can Get It For You Wholesale. She was not signed to any record label when she recorded that album. But it also wasn't her first time in the recording studio ...

Barbra: A Singer without a Label

Streisand triptych

After he met Barbra Streisand in 1961 and became her manager, Marty Erlichman persistently tried to get his talented client signed with a major record label.

Erlichman told author James Spada: “Everybody said, ‘She has a beautiful voice, but it's more Broadway than records, and certainly the voice and the material are not what is being bought at the moment. We don't think she'll sell records.’”

It wasn't until Barbra stopped the show (I Can Get It For You Wholesale) on Broadway in March 1962 that the record execs started paying attention.

“The record people started to come back,” Erlichman said. “The first label that wanted to sign her was Atlantic. But that label was basically jazz, and I told them that I thought she had great potential as an album seller, and since Columbia was the best album-producing company, I had my heart set on them. I told Capitol the same thing.

“It was a difficult thing to do, turning down offers after we'd waited so long. And neither of us had much money. But we both thought that it would be better to hold out for the best than to jump at the first offer just because we were hungry.”

Barry Dennen Tapes

Early shot of Streisand

Barry Dennen was Barbra Streisand's friend from about 1960 to 1962. Dennen played many roles in that initial climb to fame that Barbra took. He was her mentor, friend, director, and (according to his book) lover.

“She had a voice the microphone loved—and everybody else loved it, too,” Dennen wrote. “I was really the man who insisted that she sing, who gave her the support and encouragement and help that she needed, and I put together and directed her first nightclub act for her.”

Dennen recorded Streisand many times with his Ampex reel-to-reel recorder, including live dates at the Bon Soir. When Marty Erlichman and Barbra Streisand were putting together Just For the Record, they tried to make an arrangement with Dennen to utilize the tapes, but were unable to come to an agreement.

At a Streisand fan gathering in the mid-1990s, Dennen was a guest speaker and played excerpts from his Streisand tapes of the Bon Soir. Fans heard “Keepin' Out of Mischief Now” (which was Barbra's opening song in her early act), “A Sleepin Bee”, and “A Taste of Honey.”

In 2009, Dennen finally put his tapes up for auction (starting bid was $1 million!!). He listed the recordings he owned:

Home Recordings (Barbra: vocal; Barry; guitar)

These songs were probably recorded in 1960 at Barry Dennen's home at West 9th Street in New York City’s Greenwich Village (Streisand lived with him for a while).

“Two Brothers” is probably the Irving Gordon folk-Civil War song, written in 1951.

Two Brothers music

 

Rehearsal at the Bon Soir

Jimmy Daniels was the host of the Bon Soir—he introduced Streisand. Daniels, a handsome café singer in his day, sometimes sang a number or two at the Bon Soir microphone.

For the 2009 auction, Dennen wrote: “I was setting up the microphones to record her first appearance at the Bon Soir and I turned the tape on at the rehearsal. I liked this song and wanted a recording of it. You can clearly hear Barbra, waiting her turn to rehearse, humming a counter melody.”

Streisand at Bon Soir

Barbra's Supper Club Debut @ Bon Soir, Sept. 17, 1960

Detroit Radio Shows (Feb. 24, 28 & April 14, 1961)

Streisand appeared on two local radio shows while playing the Caucus Club in Detroit, Michigan in 1961. She was on The Jack Harris Show (2/24/61 and 4/14/61) as well as Guest House, Detroit (2/28/61).

Columbia Records Audition Disc

Dennen described how he came into possession of the Columbia demo: “One afternoon Barbra brought an acetate disc of audition material she had recorded as a test for Columbia Records. She asked me to give her notes, which I did, and I made a tape recording of this rare disc, which she took away with her.”

Fine Recording (1961)

Fine Recording demo

In 1961 Barbra recorded a 10-inch 45 rpm acetate demo at Fine Recording Inc., 118 West 57th Street, New York.

Most likely, this was a session that Marty Erlichman arranged in order to record Streisand and have something tangible—a record—to give to potential record companies.

On one side was “Have I Stayed Too Long at the Fair”, and the flip side, “Come to the Supermarket (in Old Peking)”, with what sounds like a trio backing her.

Dave Simons described the studio in his book, Studio Stories:

Fine Sound Studio A, built out of the main ballroom of the Great Northern Hotel on West 57th Street near 6th Avenue (the current site of Le Parker Meridien Hotel), complete with such original features as stately chandeliers, hand-sculpted columns, and illuminated stained-glass ceilings.

“The room had almost no acoustical treatment — it naturally had a nice, round sound,” says Walter Sear, a Fine disciple .....

The acetate was auctioned in 2007 and further described as such:

...Barbra Streisand's first known recording demo. It's one of only ten that were manufactured in the early '60s; eight were sent to record companies and are no longer believed to exist, one went into Barbra's vault, and this one was given by her to a friend who's kept it in pristine condition for the past four decades.
label of Fine Recording "Come to the Supermarket"

RCA Demo (1962)

RCA demo record

In March 1962, Streisand auditioned for RCA Records by recording nine songs, pressed on a 12-inch acetate record.

Marty Gold, called “one of RCA's yeoman house arrangers,” accompanied Barbra on piano.

Side A:

  1. A Sleepin' Bee
  2. Have I Stayed Too Long at the Fair
  3. When the Sun Comes Out
  4. A Taste of Honey
  5. At the Codfish Ball (take 1)
  6. At the Codfish Ball (take 2)

Side B:

  1. Lover, Come Back to Me (take 1)
  2. Lover, Come Back to Me (take 2)
  3. Bewitched
  4. I Had Myself a True Love
  5. Soon It's Gonna Rain

The demo includes Barbra's version of a song Shirley Temple sang in a film called Captain January. Written by S. Mitchell and L. Pollack, “At the Codfish Ball” has never been recorded by Barbra —although she did confess that in preparation for 2003's The Movie Album, she was considering recording a medley of Shirley Temple songs!

The other curiosity about this RCA demo is the alternate lyric Barbra sings near the end of “I Had Myself A True Love”.

She sings:

Where is he? With that gal in that damned ‘ol saloon

Whereas, one year later at the Bon Soir—and later on The Third Album—she sings:

Where is he? Has he gone so soon?

Columbia Records Contract:
Oct. 1, 1962

LIeberson and Streisand sign contract in 1962

Above: Goddard Lieberson, Streisand, and Columbia A&R man David Kapralik

Barbra and Marty's hard work paid off when Streisand sat down to sign her recording contract next to Goddard Lieberson, the president of Columbia Records on October 1, 1962. She has recorded with Columbia ever since.

Signing contract

Streisand's original 1962 record contract was reportedly for five years (one year guaranteed, with four annual options) and gave her a royalty of 5% against 98% of the records she sold (paid after recording costs).

Barbra's stalwart manager, Marty Erlichman, negotiated the deal with Columbia. He recalled that Streisand received a cash advance with the label. “It was small—twenty thousand dollars, I believe. We weren't interested in big front money. We waived that for other considerations such as creative control, no coupling, and the right to choose her own material.” (The coupling clause gave Streisand the right to refuse to be placed on a compilation record with other artists.)

Erlichman, always looking out for Streisand, insisted on “an album within the first six months. The wording was that twenty sides, which meant two LPs, had to be recorded and released at six-month intervals that first year,” he said. “I wanted to be sure that in the event she was dropped by the label she was first given every opportunity to succeed—our way, not theirs.”

Indeed, The Barbra Streisand Album and The Second Barbra Streisand Album were released by Columbia in February and October of 1963, with The Third Barbra Streisand Album hitting stores in February 1964.

Signing contract 1962

End.

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