Barbra Streisand remembers the first time she 'felt the warmth of a spotlight' Recorded in 1962, the newly remastered Live at the Bon Soir was meant to be Streisand's debut album, despite the singer's aversion to public performance.

Barbra Streisand remembers the first time she 'felt the warmth of a spotlight'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1137407495/1137604285" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This week I got to talk to a legend about the first time she sang in a nightclub, why she actually hates performing and the musical treasures she has locked away until now. So, Barbra, these tapes - it's my understanding they were just hanging out in your vault or someone's vault for six decades...

BARBRA STREISAND: That's right.

MARTIN: ...Which makes me wonder what else is in that vault.

STREISAND: Oh, there's a lot in that vault.

MARTIN: Barbra Streisand was just 18 years old when she started singing at a club in Manhattan called Le Bon Soir. Recordings of her made there a couple of years later were supposed to be her debut album. In the end, they were shelved in favor of a studio album. Now they have been remastered, and we get to hear this exceptional young talent command a stage, transport an audience and sing like it's all in the line.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVER, COME BACK TO ME")

STREISAND: (Singing) Lover, lover, lover, lover, get yourself here to me.

MARTIN: The newly released album is called "Live At The Bon Soir."

STREISAND: It was very intimate and dark. I loved that - you know, where you didn't have to see the audience's faces...

MARTIN: Yeah.

STREISAND: ...Which would make me nervous. And so it was great because if you're acting in a theater, you don't see the audience either. You can build that fourth wall. I remember it was the first time I felt the warmth of a spotlight. It was a place to try out my acting skills in a sense, you know, because I went to classes on and off since I was 14. And that was my ambition.

MARTIN: It is crazy to hear that singing was secondary to you...

STREISAND: Oh, totally. I mean, I...

MARTIN: ...When you had such a gift.

STREISAND: I did it to pay the rent. But I was able - I thought, you know, I got to make this work for me.

MARTIN: I want to get into the music.

STREISAND: Yeah.

MARTIN: I want to play "Cry Me A River," your version of this. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRY ME A RIVER")

STREISAND: (Singing) Cry me a river. Cry me a river. I cried a river over you.

MARTIN: This rendition - I don't know. You brought things I never felt or heard in that song before.

STREISAND: Well, because you heard anger. In other words, it was an exercise I learned in acting class about creating a face of someone that you had certain feelings for. So the exercise at the beginning of the song was creating this person's face in my mind. So it was very specific. Like, now this person comes back in my life and says, you know, I made a mistake. We should never have broken up. Well, you know, screw you. That's what I decided to use. And that turned into my rendition of "Cry Me A River."

MARTIN: So I guess this is just - you're going to tell me this is just your acting skill, but where does that confidence to be that person - where did that come from?

STREISAND: I don't know. My mother thought I would never make it. She tried to make me cut my nails and learn how to type. And that's when I was 13, 14. I grew my nails longer so I never could learn how to type.

MARTIN: Is that why you have those long nails?

STREISAND: What?

MARTIN: You have very long nails. You always have.

STREISAND: I know, but it's...

MARTIN: Was it rebellion against your mom?

STREISAND: Yeah. Well, she kept saying to me, you'll get a nice job. You know, you work in the school system. My father was a teacher. And, you know, you get summers off and you get Christmas off. You know, it's a great job.

MARTIN: But here's what I don't understand, Barbra.

STREISAND: Yeah.

MARTIN: You're channeling your theater skills. You have all this confidence despite the fact that your mom sort of didn't believe that you could actually do this.

STREISAND: Right, right.

MARTIN: How does that make sense with your lifelong aversion to performing publicly?

STREISAND: That's interesting, isn't it? Why...

MARTIN: Yeah.

STREISAND: I don't want to get nervous. I get nervous being judged. I didn't have that when I was young and trying to prove that I could be somebody. And then all of a sudden it becomes now you're being judged, you know, if you get older and your voice is not as pure or this or that. And I thought maybe I was just proving something to myself that I could be somebody. In truth, I just don't like performing. I had to do it to make something of myself. But I would much rather, you know, be in a recording studio just with my little team. You don't have to worry about what gown you're going to wear. You don't have to worry about your makeup. You don't have to worry about your hair.

MARTIN: Yeah.

STREISAND: You just sing. It's me and the music.

MARTIN: I want to play another song. Can we play "Happy Days Are Here Again"?

STREISAND: Sure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN")

STREISAND: (Singing) From now on - happy days are here again. The skies above are clear again.

MARTIN: How many times do you think you've sung that song, Barbra?

STREISAND: Oh, God, I never counted. Happy days are here again - you know, a fast song.

MARTIN: Yeah.

STREISAND: And I thought, because I'm an actress, because I, you know, read the words of a play, read the words of a character, the song I thought would be interesting to be ironic in especially bad election years. You know what I mean?

MARTIN: Do you think that is why this song - your version of it - has such staying power, is the juxtaposition between the light and the dark and the longing?

STREISAND: Yeah, I do think so. I do. Yeah, because again, it was based on my true thoughts about what's happening in the world. You know, if everything was great, maybe I'd sing it fast one day (laughter).

MARTIN: What is your relationship to performing these days, or just singing? Does singing bring you joy still?

STREISAND: Singing brings me joy when I can - well, A, when I sing with my granddaughter (laughter). You know, she knows all the songs...

MARTIN: What do you sing with your granddaughter?

STREISAND: Well, she knows all the songs from "Frozen."

MARTIN: (Laughter).

STREISAND: You know, she knows Disney movie songs.

MARTIN: Oh, my gosh, Barbra, you could crush "Let It Go." You could crush "Let It Go."

STREISAND: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEWITCHED, BOTHERED, BEWILDERED")

STREISAND: (Singing) Each spring to him, and long for the day when I'll cling to him.

MARTIN: Are you pleased with how everything turned out - like, when you think about that version of you singing?

STREISAND: Oh, I have much gratitude. It's so astounding. You know, how we become a being, alive in this world to do what we can to make it a better place. A Jewish philosophy - it's called tikkun olam. It means to repair the world. And in other words, we are indoctrinated with that purpose in life to make the world a better place. I like repairing the world, if I can, in any small way I can.

MARTIN: Barbra Streisand - she's just released live recordings from 1962. It was supposed to be her first album. It is called "Live At The Bon Soir." Barbra, thank you so much.

STREISAND: Thank you, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN THE SUN COMES OUT")

STREISAND: (Singing) When the sun comes out.

Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.