Astrud Gilberto, the Brazilian singer who shot to fame with her iconic recording of the song “The Girl from Ipanema,” has died at 83.
“The Girl from Ipanema” was the first song Gilberto ever recorded and her only major hit, but it is one of the most famous and influential bossa nova recordings and is regarded as an important work of Brazilian music.
Gilberto was born Astrud Evangelina Weinert on March 29, 1940 in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. She married João Gilberto, the Brazilian guitarist called the “father of bossa nova,” in 1959.
Astrud accompanied her husband to New York City where João was recording an album with American saxophonist Stan Getz, titled Getz/Gilberto. Stetz wanted to record an English-language version of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s bossa nova song “Garota de Ipanema.”
Because Astrud could sing in English, she was brought on to do vocals on the track alongside her husband. Though she had some musical experience, it was her first professional recording.
“João casually asked me to join in and sing a chorus in English after he had just sung the first chorus in Portuguese,” she recalled in an interview.
Her dreamy vocals made the song immediately stand out, and it was later released as a single that featured just her voice. This version became an international hit: it reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US and charted highly around the world.
The song won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year and was nominated for Best Vocal Performance by a Female.
While Astrud Gilberto made the song the hit it was, she was not properly credited nor compensated for her work. According to The Independent, Gilberto did not receive any credit on the original album pressing, and Getz, who made an estimated million dollars off the track, “made sure that she got nothing.”
Adding to the insult, Getz often took credit for discovering Gilbert, referring to her as a “housewife.”
“The funny thing is that after my success, stories abound as to Stan Getz or Creed Taylor having ‘discovered me’, when in fact, nothing is further from the truth,” she said in 1982. “I guess it made them look important to have been the one that had the ‘wisdom’ to recognize the potential in my singing.”
“I suppose I should feel flattered by the importance that they lend to this, but I can’t help but feel annoyed that they resorted to lying.”
While she wasn’t properly compensated for her work, Gilberto is now recognized as the key to the song’s success. “It was Astrud Gilberto who made the album a smash hit,” Brazilian history professor Bryan McCann wrote in his book Getz/Gilberto. “Astrud provided the ineffable allure that made the album irresistible.”
“The Girl from Ipanema” went on to become one of the most popular songs of all time: it is believed to be the second-most-covered pop song ever behind only The Beatles’ “Yesterday.”
Her recording was also credited with popularizing Brazilian bossa nova music with American audiences. “Americans are generally not very curious about the styles of other countries,” she later said in an interview. “But our music was Brazilian music in a modern form.”
She separated from João Gilberto in the 1960s, and while she never topped the success of “The Girl from Ipanema,” she had a successful music career over the next few decades, residing in the United States.
Gilberto died on June 5 at the age of 83. The news was confirmed by her friend and fellow musician Paul Ricci on Facebook, on behalf of her son Marcelo. No further details were given but Ricci praised her as a groundbreaking singer.
“She was an important part of ALL that is Brazilian music in the world and she changed many lives with her energy,” he wrote.
What a beautiful voice and an iconic song — rest in peace to the great Astrud Gilberto. Please share this story in her memory