Barbra Streisand admitted it herself: she’d been upstaged by a new generation of Babs wannabes: “My niece saw ‘Funny Girl’ and asked me why I was singing songs from ‘Glee,’ ” Streisand quipped from the podium at Friday night’s MusiCare’s event in downtown Los Angeles, where she was being honored by the Recording Academy as Person of the Year. It was practically a “Glee”-themed evening, as no less than three numbers were performed by members of the show’s cast, including Kristin Chenoweth and Matthew Morrison belting out the emotion of “One Less Bell to Answer” and Lea Michelle doing her best Fanny Brice on “My Man,” maybe the best two-minute song in Broadway history.
It was the biggest-drawing night in the event’s 21-year history, according to organizers, although no figures were provided. Being the showbiz royal that she is, Streisand was introduced by no less than Prince, one of the evening’s surprises. Former President Clinton sent his well wishes via video, but otherwise the heavy hitters stepped up: Stevie Wonder, whose “You and I” Streisand covered in 1975, exercised his trademark melisma on “People”; Leona Lewis wowed with “Somewhere” from “West Side Story”; Seal evoked Luther Vandross on “Guilty” (with Streisand later hinting of a potential duets pairing); and Faith Hill wrung pathos from “Send in the Clowns.” What’s more, Herbie Hancock, Diana Krall and Tony Bennett summoned a jazzy elegance; while Barry Manilow infused “Evergreen” with his requisite polish.
As one of the industry’s most high-profile liberals, Streisand couldn’t help but give a shout-out to the Egyptians for “democracy triumphing over the tyranny of dictatorship.” But ultimately the evening was a tribute to the Great American Songbook, and Streisand’s unrivaled power to move the masses with her voice. “I love music for what it does to the soul and how it elevates emotion,” she said, and proceeded to prove it with a 30-minutes set of classics and tunes from her upcoming album, including “The Way We Were.” There was no skimping on this main course.