Barbra Streisand: A legend

At 74, as she embarks on a memoir, an album and a rare tour, the megastar is intent on correcting (the tiniest) errors and on defining her own legacy.

Barbra Streisand

Barbra Streisand

Streisand is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, with more than 68.5 million albums in the United States and with a total of 145 million records sold worldwide, (The only female in the top ten, and the only artist outside of the rock 'n' roll genre.) making her the best-selling female artist among the top-selling artists recognized by the Recording Industry Association of America,

After beginning a successful recording career in the 1960s, Streisand ventured into film by the end of that decade. She starred in the critically acclaimed Funny Girl, for which she won the Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Actress. Her other films include The Owl and the Pussycat, The Way We Were, and A Star Is Born, for which she received her second Academy Award, composing music for the love theme "Evergreen", the first woman to be honored as a composer. With the release of Yent in 1983,

Streisand became the first woman to write, produce, direct, and star in a major studio film.The film won an Oscar for Best Score and a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Musical; Streisand received the Golden Globe Award for Best Director, the first (and to date only) woman to win that award.

The RIAA and Billboard recognize Streisand as holding the record for the most top 10 albums of any female recording artist: a total of 33 since 1963. According to Billboard, Streisand holds the record for the female with the most number one albums. Billboard also recognizes Streisand as the greatest female of all time on its Billboard 200 chart and one of the greatest artists of all time on its Hot 100 chart. Streisand is the only recording artist to have a number-one album in each of the last six decades, having released 53 Gold albums, 31 Platinum albums, and 14 Multi-Platinum albums in the United States.

Barbra Streisand

Barbra Streisand

Barbra Streisand — whose coming album of duets, “Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway,” features a stellar supporting cast that includes Melissa McCarthy and Jamie Foxx — is talking about another duet with another celebrated singer, now long dead.

That would be Judy Garland, whose television show Ms. Streisand visited in 1963 in what feels like a watershed moment in the history of fabled American vocalists. In the course of my recent afternoon-long visit with Ms. Streisand at her cloistered estate here, she says several times that she doesn’t like revisiting her past.

But since she’s been researching a memoir, she’s in a more retrospective state of mind than usual. And before the afternoon is over, she will take me on a circuitous tour of her long life in the spotlight, with frequent side trips into the persistent problems of being Barbra.

Ms. Streisand, you see, has always been in charge — of her image, of her career and, whenever possible, of her immediate environment — ever since she started singing in Greenwich Village nightclubs as a gawky teenager in thrift-shop clothes in the early 1960s. It is a determination that has made her one of the most enduring — and adored and disliked — of all American stars.

It is also why she seems unlikely to retreat entirely behind the iron gates of the estate she says is the one place she is entirely comfortable. She needs to make sure that the version of Barbra that the world knows — onscreen, in recordings, in biographies — is the version she sees, as exactly as possible. Unlike many female stars of her generation and stature, she has rarely ceded control to any manager, or mate, or Svengali.

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