Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Happy Birthday, Gorgeous!

I always said that there were three artists for whom I would literally camp out overnight in a lineup to see. Judy Garland (who was long gone by the time I stated these words), Bette Midler (who I was fortunate enough to catch in concert several years ago), and of course the grand dame herself, Barbra. I realize that my affinity for these ladies will not endear me to hipster music lovers, and that it will probably elicit groans from many in my own generation never mind my children's, but I'm sorry! I have always loved talent and these broads were and are the best of the best. I have been thinking a great deal of the gift that is La Streisand today on this her 70th birthday and it struck me that I was in total awe of her gifts not just because I yearned to possess merely a fraction of her vocal ability, but because she is always note and phrase perfect. The woman simply knows how to sell a song. Not only that, but she was and continues to be fearless in her musical choices. When disco was the rage, she worked with Donna Summer and Barry Gibb. When Broadway was back in fashion, she returned to her roots and reintroduced a whole new generation to Stephen Sondheim. When faith music stirred her, she recorded some brave choices without fear. She has always done it her way, often under the gaze of intense criticism, but she has controlled her career and her message in a way that no other female artist can ever claim to have done. Without Barbra there would be no Bette, no Whitney, no Mariah, no Celine, no other pretenders to the throne.

I finally did get to see her perform live when she finally resumed touring after decades of resisting due to intense stage fright. I took my parents because they were the ones who instilled my love for her early on. As I sat there watching them enjoy every single note and lyric, I was reminded of all of those times watching "My Name is Barbra" in reruns, all of those hours pretending I could reach the notes in "Evergreen", and all of those hours in the car singing with my dad. It was worth every dime spent on the evening.

In my final year of high school vocal music, I had to prepare a solo piece complete with full orchestra behind me. Naively, I chose to sing "The Way We Were". (It was the early 80s and the movie was still a big deal.) My teacher was impressed enough to force me to perform it at the end of year music night. I can still feel my knees shaking all these years later as I kept thinking, "Who the hell do you think you are? Barbra?" When the ordeal was done, Tom Cheek (yes he of Blue Jay broadcast fame) who was acting as emcee that evening, came over and kissed my 18 year old hand and told me I had done well. All I kept thinking was I hope I didn't embarrass Barbra. Happy Birthday, Gorgeous. May there be many more to come.

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