Astrud Gilberto, the Brazilian singer and songwriter 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.
Her granddaughter Sofia Gilberto confirmed her death in a social media post Monday. “I love Astrud and will love Astrud forever,” Sofia wrote. “She was the face and voice of bossa nova in most parts of the planet. Astrud will forever be in our hearts.”
Born in the eastern state of 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 creators of Getz/Gilberto, the classic bossa nova album with saxophonist Stan Getz. and her then-husband 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.
Astrud Gilberto’s words, translated from the Portuguese by Norman Gimbel, would be remembered like few others of the time:
Tall and brown and young and beautiful
The girl from Ipanema goes for a walk
And when she’s over
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Everyone she passes says “Ah”
The song’s international appeal helped popularize bossa nova, a genre that combines jazz and samba, outside of Brazil.
Getz/Gilberto sold over two million copies and The Girl from Ipanema, released as a single with Astrud Gilberto as sole vocalist, became an all-time standard, often ranked just behind Yesterday by the Beatles as the most covered song in the modern era.
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Getz/Gilberto won three Grammy Awards in 1965, including Album of the Year, the first time a jazz album had received the accolade. 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, even though de Moraes wrote the lyrics about a Brazilian teenager, Heloisa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto.
Her first solo album was The Astrud Gilberto Album, released in 1965 and featuring Antonio Carlos Jobim.
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.
Brazilian bossa nova and samba singer Astrud Gilberto (center right) and her band perform at SOB’s nightclub in New York City, United States, March 23, 1993 (File: Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images)
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 received no money for The Girl from Ipanema and that Taylor and Getz (who would call her “just a housewife”) took credit for “discovering” her.
Joao Gilberto, often celebrated as a pioneer of bossa nova, passed away in 2019.
Born Astrud Weinert, the singer was the youngest of three sisters. Her father was 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.
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 crooned 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.”