As one of the most decorated entertainers in show business history, Barbra Streisand — one of those endangered species who has scored an Oscar, Emmy, Tony and multiple Grammys — is notoriously shy about her public performances. In fact, it took 27 years for her to commit to a concert tour following her Broadway, West End and Hollywood triumphs as Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl” as well as a series of hit TV specials. As her recording and filmmaking careers blossomed, her concert appearances — record-shattering events more infrequent than the Olympics — became less of a priority despite the riches they afforded her.
And so when Streisand agreed to perform as the Recording Academy’s MusiCares Person of the Year at tonight’s gala, as well as making a rare singing appearance at Sunday’s 53rd annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Center — where she concluded her last U.S. tour in 2006 — Recording Acad president/CEO Neil Portnow admits he felt like one of the luckiest people in the world to have landed Babs.
“There are a few that are even beyond your dreams in terms of the night you might have,” he says. “You want to be able to present names and personalities that become irresistible in terms of selling tickets and tables and (program) ads. Who better than Barbra Streisand? No one.”
The annual benefit raises funds for members of the music community who require emergency financial and medical assistance; in other words, people who need people.
As most charities struggle to regain lost ground from the recession, Streisand provides MusiCares with a wide reach when it comes to soliciting support. With her ties to the music, film, television, theater, publishing and political worlds, “this is someone that has an incredibly broad following and a lot of them want to be in the room,” Portnow says.
An invite has been extended to former President Clinton, who attended in 2003 when Bono was honored. Portnow says Clinton, for whom Streisand helped raise millions during his initial presidential campaign, will likely provide a taped message.
MusiCares hopes to top the more than $4 million raised from last year’s event honoring Neil Young. Tonight’s program, being held at the L.A. Convention Center, has sold out with attendance capped at 2,400. It is believed to be the highest attendance since MusiCares was established in 1989, according to Portnow.
“For me, being able to create is both a gift and a responsibility, and I have seen firsthand the power of philanthropy to make the world a safer, healthier and more peaceful place,” Streisand said in a statement. “I have so much respect for the work (MusiCares) does to create a lifeline of resources … for music people in times of need.”
Among the artists feting Streisand will be Tony Bennett, Jeff Beck, Seal, Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, LeAnn Rimes, Diana Krall, Barry Manilow, Faith Hill, Leona Lewis and members of the cast of “Glee” (including Lea Michele, who has made no secret of her love for “Funny Girl”).
“Barbra Streisand is a renaissance woman of incomparable voice, creativity, invention, integrity and magic,” Hancock tells Variety. “She is also a compassionate fighter for what’s best for the world and the planet.”
Grammy winner T Bone Burnett, who was honored Wednesday by the Recording Academy’s Producers and Engineers Wing, recalls a revelatory performance by Streisand in his youth. “When I was a kid, she went on ‘The Tonight Show’ (in 1962) and sang ‘Happy Days Are Here Again.’ She sang it with the greatest sadness. We all knew that song as a song that helped rally the country out of the Depression and the fact that she was able to take that song and show how much pain was in all of that and how much we lost redefined the song. She taught me that. That was her artistry. That was a genius moment by her.”
There are other signs that Streisand’s moment in the Grammy spotlight will be more than just a pair of cameos. In addition to recording a new album, she is prepping for the role of Mama Rose in a planned feature remake of the musical “Gypsy,” which would be her first film lead since 1996’s “The Mirror Has Two Faces. (She also happens to be competing for a Grammy in the traditional pop vocal album category for “Love Is the Answer.”)
Courting Streisand for MusiCares has been a multi-year process. Portnow has regular lunches with Streisand’s longtime manager Marty Erlichman. “It’s always something on my mind and he knows this,” Portnow says. “When we did our annual lunch this (past) year to catch up, he said, ‘You know, this might be a good year. She might want to do this.’ ”
Streisand’s longtime collaborator Jay Landers and multiple Grammy-winning producer Phil Ramone are producing the event.
Past MusiCares honorees include Bennett, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder and Quincy Jones. Portnow would not say who remains on his wish list, other than “Anyone who hasn’t been on the stage” as an honoree.
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