Astrud Gilberto delivered the memorably breathy, disaffected vocals on the 1964 hit “Girl from Ipanema” creating a style that suddenly seemed iconic: modern, international, and archly cool. Gilberto recorded the song with her husband, bossa nova star João Gilberto, and American jazz musician Stan Getz; the single sold millions of copies and won a Grammy award for Gilberto and Getz in 1964. Gilberto continued to work with Getz and enjoyed a solo career on the esteemed Verve label as well, but never replicated the success of her debut record.
Gilberto was born Astrud Weinert on March 30, 1940, in Salvador, Bahia, a state in northeastern Brazil. Her German father taught languages and literature, and the three Weinert daughters were named after mythic German goddesses—Astrud, Eda, and Iduna. The family settled in Rio de Janeiro when Astrud was eight, in a home on the Avenida Atlântica, which ran along the oceanfront. She studied at the city’s Colégio de Aplicação, and at the age of 20 was introduced to one of the country’s most popular musical stars, João Gilberto.
Originally from Bahia as well, João was a talented guitarist whose violão gago, or stammering guitar, became a staple of the wildly popular new musical style called bossa nova. The musical form, which evolved from traditional Brazilian rhythms and 1940s American big band and jazz, found appreciative audiences in Brazil. Billboard writer Enor Paiano described it as “a smooth amalgam of syncopated, samba/baiao-rooted cadences, jazz, elegantly simple lyrical imagery, and airy, economical musical backdrops that often imparted a ‘chamber music’ effect. Bossa tunes were sung in a wispy, vibrato-free style that masked smoldering, usually romantic sentiments.” João worked closely with friends Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes to craft hit records of the late 1950s like Desafinado and Chega de Saudade (No More Blues), both of which became international hits.
Gilberto met her future husband at the home of a friend, Nara Leão, a member of the bossa nova crowd who would later become a singer in her own right. Gilberto’s mother was a fan of his music, and he courted Astrud in part by playing guitar while she sang. They were married in early 1960, and soon became parents of two boys. The record that would make her a star was written around 1962 by Jobim de Moraes and João. Originally titled “Menina que passa” (The Girl Who Passes By), it was inspired by a pretty 18 year old—Heloisa “Helô” Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto—who often walked past the Veloso bar frequented by Jobim and de Moraes in the Ipanema section of Rio, home to one of the city’s three famed beaches. Under a new title, “Garota de Ipanema” (Girl from Ipanema), it was recorded by a number of Brazilian singers in its original Portuguese.
“Garota de Ipanema” proved to be one of the trio’s last collaborations, for the Brazilian bossa nova craze was
Born Astrud Weinert on March 30, 1940, in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil; daughter of a professor and English teacher; married João Gilberto, 1960 (divorced, c. 1964); children: Marcelo Oliveira, Gregory Lasorsa. Education: Attended the Colégio de Aplicação, late 1950s.
Recorded first song, “Girl from Ipanema,” with husband João Gilberto and jazz musician Stan Getz, March of 1963; released “Girl from Ipanema,” which went on reach number one on the U.S. adult contemporary charts, 1964; appeared with Getz on release, Getz Au Go Go, 1964; recorded several solo albums for the Verve label, 1964-87.
Awards: Grammy Award, Record of the Year for “Girl from Ipanema,” 1964; induction, Latin Grammy Hall of Fame for album Getz/Gilberto (with Stan Getz and João Gilberto), 2003.
fading. Jobim went to New York City, where he worked as a songwriter, arranger, and pianist; the Gilberto family followed in early 1963. Charlie Byrd had brought bossa nova to New York after a 1961 tour of Brazil, and it soon swept the jazz world. Jobim and João were invited to record with Getz, an acclaimed tenor sax legend who was fascinated by the Brazilian sound and had begun to incorporate it into his own style, most notably on his 1962 release Big Band Bossa Nova. Their sessions, which took place in March of 1963, were produced by Creed Taylor, who had an impressive track record at the Verve label, home to many jazz greats of the era.
When it came time to record “Garota de Ipanema,” Taylor reportedly wanted some English lyrics on it; Gilberto, in studio, offered to deliver them since she had some ability in the language. João rebuffed her, but Taylor and the others liked the idea, and João relented. Her husband sang the first verse in Portuguese, followed by hers in English; this made the song five minutes, 15 seconds long—too long for a radio hit. Later that year Taylor excised João’s vocals, which shortened it to three minutes, 55 seconds, and Verve released it as a single. It became a huge hit, reaching the number five spot on the pop singles chart and the top spot in the adult-contemporary category. The Getz/Gilberto album became a million seller, hit number two on the pop album charts, and became (at the time) the best-selling jazz LP in history. It won Grammy Awards for Record of the Year, Best Instrumental Jazz Performance, and Best-Engineered Nonclassical Recording.
Gilberto was not credited for her vocals on Getz/Gilberto, and reportedly earned only $120 for her work, the going rate for a studio session. She then toured with Getz, recording Getz Au Go Go, released in 1964. Critics claimed, however, that Gilberto’s wispy voice was not strong enough to carry an entire album of songs. Verve tried to position her in the easy-listening genre with such songs as “The Shadow of Your Smile” and “Fly Me to the Moon” in 1964, but these never attained the status of “Girl from Ipanema.” Her first true solo record, The Astrud Gilberto Album, appeared in May of 1965 and featured songs in both English and Portuguese. It sold respectably, but failed to crack the top 40. By this time, Gilberto and her husband had divorced, and she settled in New York City with their sons. João’s subsequent remarriage produced a daughter, Bebel, who went on to make an acclaimed 2001 record that blended bossa nova with electronica.
During the rest of the 1960s, Gilberto cut more albums for Verve, including Look to the Rainbow, a 1965 work with arranger Gil Evans, and A Certain Smile, A Certain Sadness, which paired her with Brazilian organist and arranger Walter Wanderley in 1966. By the end of the decade, bossa nova’s appeal had died out abroad as well. Gilberto began to make film appearances and worked with Quincy Jones on the soundtrack to the 1966 Sidney Lumet spy thriller, The Deadly Affair. For a number of years she made television commercials for Eastern Airlines as well. She began to write her own songs in the early 1970s, and released an occasional album. Her 1977 effort, That Girl From Ipanema, featured a duet, “Far Away,” with her idol, jazz trumpeter Chet Baker. In the early 1980s she formed a sextet with her son Marcelo, a talented bassist, and they toured North America, Europe, and Japan. In 1984, under a brief British revival of bossa nova, Gilberto’s “Girl from Ipanema” charted once again. In her later years she has become an ardent animal-rights activist.
(With Stan Getz and João Gilberto) Getz/Gilberto, Verve, 1963.
The Astrud Gilberto Album, Verve, 1964.
(With Stan Getz) Getz Au Go Go, Verve, 1964.
Look To The Rainbow, Verve, 1965.
Shadow Of Your Smile, Verve, 1965.
Beach Samba, Verve, 1966.
(With Walter Wanderley) A Certain Smile, A Certain Sadness, Verve, 1967.
Windy, Verve, 1968.
September 17, 1969, Verve, 1969.
I Havent Got Anything Better To Do, Verve, 1970.
Astrud Gilberto with Stanley Turrentine, CTI, 1971.
Astrud Gilberto Now, Perception, 1972.
That Girl From Ipanema, Audio Fidelity, 1977.
Astrud Gilberto Plus James Last Orchestra, Polygram, 1987.
Live In New York, Pony Canyon, 1996.
Temperance, Pony Canyon, 1997.
Jungle, Magya, 2002.
Castro, Ruy, Bossa Nova: The Story of the Brazilian Music That Seduced the World, A Cappella, 2000.
Billboard, December 24, 1994, p. 14.
New York Times, December 12, 1984; March 7, 1987.
San Francisco Chronicle, June 29, 1998, p. D1.
“Astrud Gilberto,” All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (July 1, 2003).
Astrud Gilberto Official Website, http://www.astrudgilberto.com (July 1, 2003).