Remembering Astrud Gilberto, Who Sang ‘The Girl From Ipanema’

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Astrud Gilberto, who famously sang on the 1964 recording “The Girl From Ipanema,” died June 5, 2023, at age 83. Though she was not a professional singer at the time, the bossa nova recording became a worldwide hit, ultimately earning a Grammy Award for Record of the Year.

In 1964, American jazz saxophonist Stan Getz was making an album for Verve Records with João Gilberto, a Brazilian singer, songwriter and guitarist, when the idea came up to record the song. But they needed a female singer for the tune. American lyricist Norman Gimbel had written English-language words for the song and João Gilberto suggested that his wife, Astrud—who was not a professional singer but knew English—handle the vocals.

Astrud Gilberto, born March 29, 1940, in the state of Bahia, Brazil, was just 22 years old when she recorded her vocal in March 1963. “The Girl from Ipanema,” released as a single in May 1964, was the perfect bossa nova ballad, and the biggest-selling, reaching #2 in the U.S. It was written in 1962, as “Garota de Ipanema,” with music by Antônio Carlos Jobim and Portuguese lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes, and first recorded that year.

The album, Getz/Gilberto, won two Grammys—the first ever to feature non-American artists and the first jazz recording to win Album of the Year—and became one of the most successful jazz albums of all-time. It was the only jazz album to win Album of the Year until Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters in 2008.

The couple’s son, Marcelo Gilberto, confirmed her death. (João and Astrud Gilberto reportedly divorced in the mid-1960s. Her former husband died on July 6, 2019, at age 88.)

Watch Astrud Gilberto sing the song in the 1964 film Get Yourself a College Girl, along with Stan Getz

Related: 10 jazz singles of the ’60s that became hits

As Astrud noted in the biography on her website, although she had yet to perform “for hire,” she had already some experience as a vocalist from when she had sung at gatherings with a group of musicians. She also had watched what she described as daily musical “sessions” with her husband.

On a trip to New York, she said, “A few hours prior to Stan Getz coming to our New York City hotel for a scheduled rehearsal with João, he (João) told me with an air of mystery in his voice, ‘Today there will be a surprise for you.’ While rehearsing with Stan, as they were in the midst of going over the song ‘The Girl from Ipanema,’ João casually asked me to join in, and sing a chorus in English, after he had just sung the first chorus in Portuguese. So, I did just that. Stan was very receptive. While we were listening back to the just recorded song at the studio’s control room, Stan said to me, with a very dramatic expression, ‘This song is going to make you famous.'”

Astrud Gilberto continued to record for Verve under her own name, but none of her post-“Ipanema” singles reached the charts Two albums, The Astrud Gilberto Album and The Shadow of Your Smile,  charted but neither was very successful. She continued to record for other labels, including CTI and Polydor. She announced in 2002 that she was taking “indefinite time off” from public performance and curtailed her professional career after that. Her recordings are available in the U.S. here and in the U.K. here.

In his brief tribute, Al Di Meola wrote, “I always loved Astrud Gilberto! My first introduction to Bossa Nova. May she rest in peace!”

Leo Sayer wrote, “RIP to the wonderful girl from Brazil with the golden voice.”

Related: Musicians we lost in 2023

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3 Comments so far

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  1. Batchman
    #1 Batchman 6 June, 2023, 21:19

    And of course it inspired this…

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  2. 122intheshade
    #2 122intheshade 7 June, 2023, 22:44

    My favorite Astrud album was “A Certain Smile, A Certain Sadness”, with Walter Wanderley. “So Nice” is so-o wonderful.

    I emailed her website about 10 years ago, asking her to come to Phoenix. I got a nice reply of “Thanks for your support, but Astrud is not touring at this time”. Too bad.

    Reply this comment
    • Jmack
      Jmack 7 July, 2023, 00:22

      Yes, so nice is lovely. What a great voice. She had. My favorite is take me to Aruwanda… they’re where nobody hurries their where nobody worries..

      Reply this comment

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