Astrud Gilberto, lead singer of ‘The Girl from Ipanema’, has passed away

Norman Ray
Norman Ray

Global Courant

NEW YORK — Astrud Gilberto, the Brazilian singer, songwriter and entertainer whose awkward English-language cameo on “The Girl from Ipanema” made her a global voice of bossa nova, has passed away at the age of 83.

Musician Paul Ricci, a friend of the family, confirmed she passed away on Monday. He gave no additional details.

Born in Salvador, Bahia and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Gilberto became an unexpected superstar overnight in 1964, thanks to his knowledge of just enough English to be recruited by the makers of “Getz/Gilberto”, the classic bossa nova album with saxophonist Stan Getz. and her then-husband, singer-songwriter-guitarist Joao Gilberto.

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‘The Girl from Ipanema’, the wistful ballad written by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes, was already a hit in South America. But Getz/Gilberto producer Creed Taylor and others thought they could increase the record’s appeal by including both Portuguese and English-language vocals. In a 2002 interview with friends on her website, Astrud Gilberto recalled her husband saying he had a surprise for her at the recording studio.

“I begged him to tell me what it was, but he adamantly refused and just said, ‘Wait and see…’ Later, while rehearsing with Stan, as they were going through the song ‘The Girl from Ipanema,” Joao casually asked me to join in and sing a chorus in English, after he had just sung the first chorus in Portuguese. So I did just that,” she explained.

“When we finished performing the song, Joao turned to Stan and said something like, “Tomorrow Astrud will sing on record… What do you think? Stan was very receptive, even very enthusiastic; he said it was a great idea. The rest, of course, is, as one would say, ‘history’.”

Astrud Gilberto sings “The Girl from Ipanema” in a lighthearted, soulless style that influenced Sade and Suzanne Vega, among others, as if she were already busy with other things. But her words, translated from Portuguese by Norman Gimbel, would be remembered like few others of the time.

Tall and brown and young and beautiful

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The girl from Ipanema goes for a walk

And when she’s over

Everyone she passes says “Ah”

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“Getz/Gilberto” sold over 2 million copies and “The Girl from Ipanema”, released as a single with Astrud Gilberto as sole vocalist, became an all-time standard, often ranking just behind “Yesterday” as the most covered song in modern times. “The Girl from Ipanema” won a Grammy for Record of the Year in 1965, and Gilberto received nominations for Best New Artist and Best Vocal Performance. The poised, dark-haired singer was so closely associated with “The Girl from Ipanema” that some thought she was the inspiration; de Moraes had written the lyrics about a Brazilian teenager, Heloísa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto.

In the following years, Gilberto toured with Getz, among others, and released eight albums (with songs in English and Portuguese), including ‘The Astrud Gilberto Album’, ‘Beach Samba’ and ‘The Shadow of Your Smile’. But after 1969 she made only seven more albums and by 2002 she had essentially retired and stopped giving interviews, dedicating her last years to animal rights activism and a career in the visual arts. She would claim she was not paid for “The Girl from Ipanema” and that Taylor and Getz (who would call her “just a housewife”) took credit for “discovering” her. She also felt alienated from her native country, claiming she was treated dismissively by the press and rarely performed there after becoming a star.

“Isn’t there an old proverb that goes, ‘No one is a prophet in his own country'”? she said in 2002. “I have no problem with Brazilians and I have a great time when I go to Brazil. Of course I go there as an incognito visitor, not as an artist.”

Astrud Weinert was the youngest of three sisters, born into a family both musical and comfortable with foreign languages: her mother was a singer and violinist, her father a linguistics professor. In her teens she belonged to a circle of musical friends and had met Joao Gilberto, a rising star in Rio’s emerging bossa nova scene.

“After I got together with Joao, the clan got bigger, with ‘older’ people like Tom Jobim, Vinicius de Morais, Bene Nunes, Luis Bonfa and Joao Donato, and of course their respective ‘other halves’,” she recalls. . “Joao Gilberto and I sang duets, or he accompanied me on guitar. Friends always asked me if I would sing at these gatherings, and also at our house when they came to visit us.

She was married twice and had two sons, Joao Marcelo Gilberto and Gregory Lasorsa, both of whom would work with her. Long past her commercial peak, she remained a popular live act, her vocals becoming warmer and jazzier as she sang covers as well as original material. She also had some notable moments as a performer, whether she was backed by trumpeter Chet Baker on “Fly Me to the Moon” or crooning alongside George Michael on the bossa nova standard “Desafinado.” In 2008, she received a lifetime Latin Grammy.

“I have been labeled ‘a recluse’ by one frustrated journalist. The dictionary clearly defines hermit as “a person who withdraws from the world to live in seclusion and often in solitude.” Why would anyone assume that just because an artist chooses not to do interviews, he/she is a recluse?” she said in 2002.

“I firmly believe that any artist who becomes famous through his work – be it music, movies or anything else – has no moral obligation whatsoever to satisfy the curiosity of journalists, fans or members of the public about their private lives anything else that is not a direct reflection of their work. My work, whether perceived as good, bad or indifferent, speaks for itself.”

Astrud Gilberto, lead singer of ‘The Girl from Ipanema’, has passed away

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