Born April 24, 1942, Barbra Streisand may be the ultimate diva. Like Cher, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, and Celine Dion, she's become a modern cultural icon, although arguably she can claim more accomplishments than all of her competitors combined. Who else can claim two Academy Awards, eight Grammys, five Emmys, a Tony Award, an American Film Institute award, a Peabody Award, and a People's Choice Award, as well as the most prestigious accolades of all -- the Kennedy Center Honors, France's Legion of Honor, a National Medal of the Arts and Grammy's Musicares Person of the Year? Then again, how many entertainers can claim all four of the leading trophies accorded in each of the arts, the Oscar, the Tony, the Emmy, and the Grammy? Each is an affirmation of both her range and talent.
Naturally, then, this grande dame is one of the most commercially successful entertainers in history, tallying sales of more than 71.5 million albums in the United States and 140 million albums worldwide. She also ranks as the best-selling female artist on the Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) Top Selling Artists list, the only female recording artist in the top ten and the only artist not considered a rock 'n' roll performer. In addition, Streisand holds the record for the most top-ten albums of any female recording artist -- a total of 32 since 1963. When she released her 2009 album, Love Is the Answer, she became one of the very few artists to score number-one albums in five consecutive decades. That's in addition to her 51 gold albums, 30 platinum albums, and 13 multiplatinum albums, in the U.S. alone.
Despite all the arenas she conquered -- Broadway, film, television, music, and nightclubs, as a performer, producer, and director -- Streisand was something of an outsider when it came to working in pure pop realms.
After initial albums that focused almost exclusively on show tunes, she didn't release her first album of contemporary music until 1971, when she worked with pop producer Richard Perry on the album Stoney End. The title track was written by Laura Nyro and became one of Streisand's biggest hits. Her reign on the pop charts continued throughout the 1970s, courtesy of the Top 10 recordings "The Way We Were" (#1), "Evergreen (Love Theme From A Star Is Born)" (#1), "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)" (with Donna Summer, another #1), "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" (with Neil Diamond, and yes, still another #1), and "The Main Event" (#3). Although many of the tracks were culled from her film soundtracks, only Elvis Presley and the Beatles could claim to have sold more albums up until that time.
In 1980, she released her best-selling effort to date -- Guilty -- an album that brought her further into pop realms via a collaboration with Bee Gee Barry Gibb and the smash hits "Woman in Love," "Guilty," and "What Kind of Fool," which Gibb wrote and produced. Twenty years later, on February 1, 2010, Streisand further fortified her pop cred by joining more than 80 other artists for the recording of a new version of the 1985 charity single "We Are the World." After the earthquake that devasted Haiti, producers Quincy Jones and Lionel Richie redirected the revenues toward that ravaged nation and retitled the single "We Are the World 25 for Haiti."
Streisand's short but torrid affair with actor Don Johnson, a sometime musician who could claim early rock roots, yielded the duet "Till I Loved You" in 1988, but Babs' most prominent nod toward contemporary cred came when she starred in a remake of the classic film A Star Is Born in 1976. Remade as a rock musical, it's the closest she's ever come to assuming a genuinely edgy persona either on film or on celluloid. True to the plot of the original story, Streisand plays a young performer who yearns for a career in the music biz and then meets and falls in love with a seductive singer/songwriter who offers to help her, a character portrayed by Kris Kristofferson. As her star ascends, his plummets, due in large part to his self-destructive vices. Aside from Streisand's surprisingly credible portrayal of this would-be rock goddess, the film's mostly notable for some smokin' sex scenes between her and her leading man.
Streisand doesn't exactly fit the image of a rowdy rocker, but the film did provide all the necessary elements to prime the possibilities. Otherwise, who could imagine Barbra Streisand as a devotee of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll? For those two hours onscreen, she carried it off remarkably well.