The 1990s was a decade when there was a competition between many “divas.” As the Huffington Post notes, it was a unique decade for female vocalists. “We had Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Shania Twain, Gloria Estefan, Tina Turner, Cher, Brandy, Faith Hill, Diana Ross,” and of course, two of the most renowned powerhouses in music: Céline Dion and Barbra Streisand.
But while the supposed competition and desire to one-up their fellow singers was constantly discussed in the media, the story of the incredible collaborations between stars often flew under the radar.
The case of Celine and Barbra’s duet, “Tell Him,” is one of those incredible musical moments.
Celine's heart and soul are just as sweet as her beautiful voice!
It all started at the 1997 Academy Awards. Barbra Streisand had directed and starred in the film The Mirror Has Two Faces and co-written the song “I Finally Found Someone,” which she sang with Bryan Adams on the film’s soundtrack. One of the nominees for the “Best Original Song” category, it was planned that Natalie Cole would perform the song live at the awards ceremony.
But Cole became ill before the ceremony and ultimately couldn’t perform. Streisand was prepared to step in if need be, but the producers of the Oscars had already asked Céline Dion, who was scheduled to be performing her hit “Because You Loved Me,” which was the theme song for the Robert Redford film Up Close and Personal (1996).
For the first time in Oscar history, a performer was singing not one but two songs at the same ceremony. Dion was nervous about filling such big shoes, but she wowed audiences with her rendition of both songs. Pairing with renowned trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, she sang Streisand’s parts with panache.
Streisand was very touched by the performance and wrote Dion a note, per Smooth Radio. “I watched the tape afterwards, you sang my song beautifully and I regret I wasn’t in the room to hear you, next time let’s make one together. I really wish your song would have won, you are a wonderful singer.”
After this, the die was cast. Streisand wanted to find some original material that she and Dion could sing together. Going to the dynamic songwriting duo David Foster and Linda Thompson, she found just what she was looking for.
After Foster came up with the key chords on the piano, he went to Thompson for help with the lyrics. As she explained to Dion and Streisand in the “making-of” video, “because you’re both so strong, and tender, and loving, I didn’t want it to be a catfight […] it had to be a friendship, someone who’s been there, done that, and passing on knowledge.”
Foster remembers telling Streisand as far back as 1986, “there’s nobody else [besides Dion] in the race to be the next Barbara Streisand.” Not long after, Foster also predicted Dion’s incredible success. “One day, they’ll just say your first name and everyone will know who you are.”
But this project was even more special because Dion had idolized Streisand for many years.
As Dion shared with Streisand, she admired her not only for her singing but also for her acting and the strong female entertainer who could direct her own films and do things her way in a male-dominated industry. “For me, this song, to be able to just stand here near you and sing with you […] just hearing you on the phone, it gave me my strength.”
As the two women step up to the mics for their performance, the magic begins.
When asked if there was some rivalry between the two superstars, Dion remained typically humble and grateful for the chance to sing with the legend. As she told the HuffPost, “all I know is that if my name is mentioned in the same company as Barbra Streisand, that’s a wonderful compliment.”