Next month I will be 23 years old. I started to wonder about other people were born on or around my birthday. Do any famous people who have a birthday near mine have anything in common? I found that jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald was born on April 25, 1918; singer Barbra Streisand was born on April 24, 1942; and actress and comedian Carol Burnett was born on April 26, 1933. What do these three famous women have in common? The careers of each of them have been full of major creative achievements. They have each reached the status of "legend" in their own fields. They stand out, however, not just because of their creative achievements but because they all had incredible determination. They were each determined to be successful and to make the most of their talent. It was their determination that helped them to overcome adversity and none of them would stop trying to be the best, regardless of whatever came their way.
They each have had long careers in show business and that sets them apart from any number of other talented people. But these women didn't rely on luck or on someone else taking responsibility for their success. They did it themselves, and they all achieved a status that many others never reach -- the respect and admiration of their peers.
Ella Fitzgerald had a career that lasted for nearly 60 years. She was known as the "First Lady of Song" (CNN), and when she died in 1996 at age 76, fellow singer Mel Torme said, "She showed me the way. She was a pathfinder" (CNN).
If we have to choose one of the three women I've mentioned who possibly had the highest degree of determination, it would have to be Ella. As a black woman in white America she broke through barriers that had been unheard of prior to her success. When she first started out in her career in the early 1930s, being a black person carried the implied meaning that she was somehow inferior, but her music crossed the boundaries set up by bigotry and racism. She had no formal vocal training yet she went on to become a legendary jazz singer. Singer Dionne Warwick has said that Ella Fitzgerald "made the mark for all female singers" (CNN).
Without her determination to success, she would not have become the singer who earned numerous awards -- including a Kennedy Center Award for her contributions to the performing arts, several Grammy awards, and honorary doctorate degrees from Dartmouth and Yale -- as well as earning the respect and admiration of other great people, such as composer Ira Gershwin who once said, "I never knew how good our songs were until Ella sang them" ("Ella -- Brief Bio"). She overcame her hard childhood, having been orphaned at age 15 and placed in an orphanage, and she overcame a hard life of living on the streets in Harlem. Later in life, she continued to entertain and amaze people with her talent even though she developed diabetes and had her legs amputated. She was determined not to let adversity get her down. She was able to rise above her circumstances and become one of the greatest American singers of the 20th century, one whose appeal crossed generations. She once said, "Coming through the years, and finding that I not only have just the fans of my day, but the young ones of today -- that's what it means. It means it was worth all of it" (redsugar).
Carol Burnett also had to overcome a hard childhood, but was determined to make a success of herself. Her parents were both alcoholics and for most of Carol's early years they lived on welfare. Her parents separated when she was 4 years old, and Carol moved in with her grandmother in a poor section of Hollywood. They lived in a boarding house and, again, Carol was living on welfare. But even as a young girl she was determined to make something of herself. She would go to the movies with her grandmother and dream about meeting movie stars. She knew she would not live out her life on welfare. She eventually earned a scholarship so she could go to college, and it was there she discovered she loved acting. The poverty-level existence she was living didn't allow for acting lessons or trips to New York, but never lost her determination. She once said, "Only I can change my life. No one can do it for me" ("Carol Burnett Quotes")
She performed at a party where a guest was so impressed with her talent he loaned her $1,000 so she could move to New York. This might be seen as being her "break," but without her strong determination to succeed, the loan to get her started would have meant nothing. Once in New York, she worked as a hatcheck girl to support herself while she tried to break into show business. She was eventually cast in a Broadway show, "Once Upon a Mattress," that became a hit, and her career moved forward at a fast pace after that. She went from the stage to being a regular on The Garry Moore Show, and then in 1967 she began what was to become one of the most popular shows ever on television, The Carol Burnett Show. For this child of poverty, raised by her grandmother and without the security of the traditional family, this was a dream come true, but she also realized it was her own hard work and determination that realized that dream, for as she has said, "When you have a dream, you've got to grab it and never let go" ("Brainy Quotes").
It would probably be easy for anyone to keep trying to be successful if they had a guarantee that they would eventually end up becoming a legend, as Carol Burnett did. But Carol Burnett had no such guarantee. In fact, her early environment, similar to Ella Fitzgerald's could be seen as working against her success. But Carol Burnett never gave up. She recognized that overcoming adversity only made her stronger. She said, "I have always grown from my problems and challenges, from the things that don't work out, that's when I've really learned" ("Brainy Quote"). She ultimately went on to win more People's Choice awards than any other woman in history, which is a testament to her ongoing appeal for the American public and her incredible talent as a performer. She never blamed her difficult childhood on not being able to succeed in life. She used it to her advantage, using it to feed her determination to be an actress and a successful entertainer. As she once said, "Comedy is tragedy plus time" ("Carol Burnett Quotes").
Barbra Streisand is another example of a determined person moving to the top of her field. Although she once referred to herself as an "actress who sings" ("Biography for Barbra Streisand"), she is so much more than that. Barbra Streisand is the only entertainer to ever win all the following awards: Oscar, Tony, Emmy, Grammy, Golden Globe, Cable Ace, Peabody, and the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award. Her career has spanned nearly ever aspect of entertainment. She has been an actress, singer, songwriter, producer and director. She once described herself by saying, "I am simple, complex, generous, selfish, unattractive, beautiful, lazy and driven" ("Barbra Streisand FAQ"). She recognized that the many parts of her personality worked together to make her what she has become -- a living legend -- yet of all her definitions, "driven" is probably the most accurate.
Barbara Joan Streisand (she dropped the extra "a" from her name after she started in show business) didn't have a childhood of poverty, as did Ella Fitzgerald and Carol Burnett, but she had her own adversity to deal with, and much of it was more difficult than a financial problem because it was directed at her appearance. Children in her school in elementary school in Brooklyn, New York, called her a "mieskeit," which means "ugly person" in Yiddish (Victoria Manley). Her father died when she was a baby, and she grew up with an abusive stepfather. But even at an early age her passion was show business -- movies, music or television -- and she had the determination to be a success regardless of her circumstances, and regardless of her less than conventional appearance. At the start of her career directors often rejected her because they disliked her appearance. The rejections just seemed to make her stronger, saying, "I just don't want to be hampered by my own limitations" ("Divas -- The Site"). She learned not to care how others perceived her, and in fact, in her later life has been known for her outspoken opinions and involvement in causes that help those who are often looked down upon. She has said, "I have opinions, nobody has to agree -- I just like being involved. So until women…