Barbara Joan Streisand was born on April 24, 1942, in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of Diana (born Ida Rosen) and Emanuel Streisand. Her mother had been a soprano singer in her youth and considered a career in music, but later became a school secretary. Her father was a high school teacher at the same school, where they first met. Streisand's family was Jewish; her paternal grandparents emigrated from Galicia (Poland–Ukraine) and her maternal grandparents from the Russian Empire, where her grandfather had been a cantor.
Her father earned a master's degree from City College of New York in 1928 and was considered athletic and handsome. As a student, he spent his summers outdoors, once working as a lifeguard and another hitchhiking through Canada. "He'd try anything," his sister Molly said. "He wasn't afraid of anything." He married Ida in 1930, two years after graduating, and became a highly respected educator with a focus on helping underprivileged and delinquent youth.:3
In August 1943, a few months after Streisand's first birthday, her father died suddenly at age 34 from complications from an epileptic seizure, possibly the result of a head injury years earlier.:3 The family fell into near-poverty, with her mother working as a low-paid bookkeeper. As an adult, Streisand remembered those early years as always feeling like an "outcast," explaining, "Everybody else's father came home from work at the end of the day. Mine didn't.":3 Her mother tried to pay their bills but could not give her daughter the attention she craved: "When I wanted love from my mother, she gave me food," Streisand says.:3
Streisand recalls that her mother had a "great voice" and sang semi-professionally on occasion, in her operatic soprano voice. During a visit to the Catskills when Streisand was 13, she told Rosie O'Donnell, she and her mother recorded some songs on tape. That session was the first time Streisand ever asserted herself as an artist, which also became her "first moment of inspiration" as an artist.
She has an older brother, Sheldon, and a half-sister, the singer Roslyn Kind, from her mother's remarriage to Louis Kind in 1949. Roslyn is nine years younger than Streisand.
Streisand began her education at the Jewish Orthodox Yeshiva of Brooklyn when she was five. There, she was considered to be bright and extremely inquisitive about everything; however, she lacked discipline, often shouting answers to questions out of turn.:3 She next entered Public School 89 in Brooklyn, and during those early school years began watching television and going to movies. Watching the glamorous stars on the screen, she was soon entranced by acting and now hoped someday to become an actress, partly as a means of escape: "I always wanted to be somebody, to be famous . . .You know, get out of Brooklyn.":3
Streisand became known by others in the neighborhood for her voice. With the other kids she remembers sitting on the stoop in front of their apartment building and singing: "I was considered the girl on the block with the good voice.":3 That talent became a way for her to gain attention. She would often practice her singing in the hallway of her apartment building which gave her voice an echoing quality.
She made her singing debut at a PTA assembly, where she became a hit to everyone but her mother, who was mostly critical of her daughter. Young Streisand was invited to sing at weddings and summer camp, along with having an unsuccessful audition at MGM records when she was nine. By the time she was thirteen, her mother began supporting her talent, helping her make a four-song demo tape, including "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart," and "You'll Never Know.":4
Although she knew her voice was good and she liked the attention, becoming an actress was her main objective. That desire was made stronger when she saw her first Broadway play, The Diary of Anne Frank, when she was 14. The star in the play was Susan Strasberg, whose acting she wanted to emulate if ever given the chance.:4 To help achieve that goal, Streisand began spending her spare time in the library, studying the biographies of various stage actresses such as Eleanora Duse and Sarah Bernhardt. In addition, she began reading novels and plays, including some by Shakespeare and Ibsen, and also on her own, studied the acting theories of Konstantin Stanislavski and Michael Chekhov.:4
She attended Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn in 1955 where she became an honor student in modern history, English, and Spanish. She also joined the Freshman Chorus and Choral Club, where she sang with another choir member and classmate, Neil Diamond. Diamond recalls, "We were two poor kids in Brooklyn. We hung out in the front of Erasmus High and smoked cigarettes." The school was near an art-movie house, and he recalls that she was always aware of the films they were showing, while he wasn't as interested.
During the summer of 1957 she got her first stage experience as a walk-on at the Playhouse in Malden Bridge, New York. That small part was followed by a role as the kid sister in Picnic and one as a vamp in Desk Set.:4 She returned to school in Brooklyn but never took dramatic arts classes, preferring instead to gain some real-world stage experience. To that end, in her second year, she took a night job at the Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village helping backstage. When she was a senior, she rehearsed for a small part in Driftwood, a play staged in a midtown attic space.:5 Her co-star in Driftwood was Joan Rivers.
She graduated, aged 16, from Erasmus Hall in January 1959, and despite her mother's pleas that she stay out of show business, she immediately set out trying to get roles on the New York City stage.:5 After renting a small apartment on 48th street, in the heart of the theater district, she accepted any job she could involving the stage, and at every opportunity, she "made the rounds" of the casting offices.:5