Astrud Gilberto, the Brazilian singer and songwriter whose off-hand, English-language cameo on The Girl from Ipanema made her a worldwide voice of bossa nova, has died at age 83.
Her granddaughter Sofia Gilberto confirmed her death in a social media post on Monday. “I love 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 overnight, unexpected superstar in 1964, thanks to knowing just enough English to be recruited by the makers of Getz/Gilberto, the classic bossa nova album featuring saxophonist Stan Getz and her then-husband Joao Gilberto.
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 expand 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 from that era:
Tall and tan and young and lovely
The girl from Ipanema goes walking
And when she passes
Each one she passes goes, “Ah”
The song’s international appeal helped popularise bossa nova, a genre that mixes jazz and samba, beyond Brazil.
Getz/Gilberto sold more than two million copies and The Girl from Ipanema, released as a single with Astrud Gilberto as the only vocalist, became an all-time standard, often ranked just behind Yesterday by the Beatles as the most covered song in modern times.
Getz/Gilberto won three Grammy Awards in 1965 including Album of the Year, the first time a jazz album 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 assumed she was the inspiration, though de Moraes had written 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.
Over the next few years, Gilberto toured with Getz among others and released eight albums (with songs in English and Portuguese), among them The Astrud Gilberto Album, Beach Samba and The Shadow of Your Smile.
But after 1969, she made just seven more albums and by 2002 had essentially retired from the business and stopped giving interviews, dedicating her latter years to animal rights activism and a career in the visual arts.
She would allege that she received no money for The Girl from Ipanema and that Taylor and Getz (who would refer to her as “just a housewife”) took undue credit for “discovering” her.
Joao Gilberto, often celebrated as a pioneer of bossa nova, died in 2019.
Born Astrud Weinert, the singer was the youngest of three sisters. Her father was a linguistics professor. By her teens, she was among 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.
Well after her commercial peak, she remained a popular live act, her singing becoming warmer and jazzier as she sang both covers and original material.
She also had some notable moments as a recording artist, whether backed by trumpeter Chet Baker on Fly Me to the Moon or crooning with George Michael on the bossa nova standard Desafinado. In 2008, she received a Latin Grammy for lifetime achievement.
“I have been labeled by an occasional frustrated journalist as ‘a recluse’. The dictionary clearly defines recluse as ‘a person who withdraws from the world to live in seclusion and often in solitude’. Why should anybody assume that just because an artist chooses not to give interviews, he/she is a recluse?” she said in 2002.
“I firmly believe that any artist who becomes famous through their work — be it music, motion pictures or any other — does not have any moral obligation to satisfy the curiosity of journalists, fans or any members of the public about their private lives, or anything else that does not have any direct reflection on their work.
“My work, whether perceived as good, bad, or indifferent, speaks for itself.”