The singer of a song that has been recorded more than any other in history has died. With her breathy voice, Astrud Gilberto helped make “The Girl From Ipanema” a worldwide hit. Her son, bassist Marcelo Gilberto, said that she had died on Monday night. 83 years old.
There are many different versions of the story about who asked Gilberto to sing the song in English. But the woman says that her husband, the bossa nova legend Joo Gilberto, came up with the idea in 1963 when he was recording in New York with the great jazz musician Stan Getz for an album called Getz/Gilberto.
On that day, people said that Gilberto had the best English in the room. Getz mockingly took credit for her involvement and joked at the time that she was just a housewife who got a break. Even though she wasn’t given credit for her first vocal performance and allegedly only made $120 for the session, she soon recorded her own solo version of the song. And she said that what happened next was a surprise.
In a 1978 interview with WHYY’s Fresh Air, she said, “I had fun doing it, and I like being a part of it.” “But I never thought it would be something important in my life, the start of a career, or anything like that.”
“The Girl From Ipanema” brought Gilberto and bossa nova music from Brazil to the forefront of the American music scene. Getz/Gilberto got four Grammys, including Record of the Year for its hit song. Gilberto started a solo career after she and her husband broke up. She recorded dozens of records and worked with artists like Quincy Jones and Chet Baker. In 2008, she won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Latin Recording Academy.
Gilberto was a big part of the jazz scene in New York in the 1960s and 1970s, according to guitarist and close friend Paul Ricci. “Astrud was the first pop radio singer to sing in that soft, intimate, sensual way that set the tone for everything,” he says. Her mellow sound would be a big inspiration for a lot of other musicians, like Sade and Karen Carpenter.
Ruy Castro, a journalist and bossa nova historian, says that Gilberto was a hit in the U.S., where she would finally live, but not in her home country. “Brazil treated her badly and didn’t like that she was successful,” he says through a translator. But she was smart and never looked back. She lived and worked in the U.S.
Brazilians and tourists alike still remember her and her song with fondness. Maybe even more so in its namesake neighborhood of Ipanema in Rio de Janeiro, where buskers played it on Tuesday near the restaurant where Antônio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes first wrote it for a girl they liked to watch walk by.
Of course, there was sadness in the air. But Gilberto herself used to say, when talking about the song’s early success, that people need romance and something dreamy to take their minds off things. Even after about 60 years, that is still true.