Barbra Steisand's Memoir: 'I'll Always Have a Soft Spot For Detroit'

April 08, 2024, 11:40 AM by  Allan Lengel

Singer and actor Barbra Streisand speaks fondly of Detroit in her 966-page memoir, noting that her first singing gig outside of New York was at "The Caucus Club" on Congress in downtown Detroit in the early 1960s.

"I'll always have a soft spot for Detroit because that was the first place I sang outside of New York City, and everyone there was so kind to me," she writes in her book, "My Name is Barbra" that was released late last year. She adds that later in her career she told an audience about Detroit at The Palace in Auburn Hills: "My friends there used to take me into their homes and feed me. And I never forget people who feed me." 

In early 1961, at age 18, after peforming for a while at the The Bon Soir, a sophisticated night club on 8th Street in New York, she was looking for more gigs. Her New York agent Irvin Arthur booked her at the Caucus Club on the bottom floor of the Penobscot Building on Congress in downtown Detroit. Streisand, who had never been anywhere except the Catskills, a resort in New York state, took a train. 

Headed to Detroit

"I packed my bags as if I were going off into the wilderness," writes the 81-year-old Brooklyn native. "Who knew if they had a decent drugstore in Detroit."

She checked in at the Wolverine Hotel on Elizabeth Street in downtown Detroit, noting that it "wasn't exactly luxurious."

"I had my own bed and my own bathroom and my own closet and my own dresser. I never had a dresser before....not to mention a bathroom that I didn't have to share with other people."

She said The Caucus Club was supposed to be like New York's "21" Club, and said it was more of a restaurant than a nightclub. It was founded in 1952.

"Everything was a la carte, and a hamburger cost $2.20, which I thought was ridiculously high. The room where I sang wasn't really designed for entertaining. There was a column in the middle and I would sit on a stool in front of a piano and lean one way for one song...and then on the next song, lean the other way, so each side of the room got to see me."

She said she owned three black dresses, so it didn't take much time for her to figure out what to wear for her performances.

She said the owner of the club, Les Gruber, told her it would be nice if she sat with customers and chatted. She noted in the book that "schmoozing with strangers wasn't my thing."

"It's funny, me spending all this time in a nightclub, because it's not somewhere I would normally be. I don't drink and I wasn't very sociable. If some man offered me a drink, I would say, 'I'd prefer a baked potato,' and that often put an end to the conversation."

That being said, she wrote that she made friends with locals including Bernie Moray, who ran Robinson's Furniture Company, and Dick Sloan, who owned a chain of movie theaters.

"It seemd a lot of business was transacted over plates of Dover sole at the club, and these guys were regulars."  She said they were married and in their 30s, which "seemed old to me." But she said they were kind and supportive, as was the couple, Bobby and Marilyn Sosnick. Bobby Sosnick, who passed in 2000, was a prominent developer who helped finance the building of The Palace in Auburn Hills.

Like Family

She wrote that the four people "were like family to me," adding that the Sosnicks invited her to their house for dinner many times.

During her free time in Detroit, she went to the racetrack to Belle Isle where she rented a horse.  

"I learned how to sit on a horse while it walked around slowly, occasionaly nibbling a few leaves off a tree." 

In April 1961, she had to unexpectedly leave Detroit for New York for her first television appearance. She was going on the "The Jack Paar Show" that was being guest-hosted by Orson Bean. It was her first plane ride.

"I had to fly from Detroit to New York because there was no time to take a train. And I was terrified because of my ear noises," she wrote. "Would my eardrums pop? Would blood pour out? Would I be deaf for the rest of my life."

She said she ended up enjoying the flight. And on the show, she sang her song "A Sleepin' Bee" and "When the Sun Comes Out."

"When I flew back to Detroit, Les Gruber (owner of The Caucus Club) gave me a bonus because he was so pleased at the free publicity for his restaurant on national TV. And he extended my run."

After eight weeks in Detroit, she took a train to St. Louis to perform at the Crystal Palace, and in May went back to New York to the Bon Soir club.

She eventually returned to The Caucus Club, but she said they only wanted to pay her what they had before -- $150 a week. But a New York agent Marty Erlichman negotiated $200 a week, and that included dinners. She later found out the agent didn't really get her a raise; he took the extra $50 out of his own pocket.

She also notes that during her last show at The Palace on May 19, 1994, she came off stage at the end and learned that Jackie Onassis had just died.

"It was a blow, even though I knew it was coming," she writes. "And I don't mean to suggest that we were close. I only felt as if I knew her, just like the rest of the world did, simply because she had been a public figure for so long. 

"And when I walked back on stage for the encore, I told them that Jackie was gone, and talked a bit about the time she had come to my house, and how lovely it was to have met her."


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