Jun 7, 2023

Astrud Gilberto, the Brazilian bossa nova singer best known for The Girl from Ipanema, has died aged 83.

One of Brazil’s biggest stars of the 1960s and 70s, she recorded 16 albums and worked with artists ranging from Quincy Jones to George Michael. Her version of The Girl From Ipanema sold more than five million copies and helped to popularise Bossa Nova.

Born Astrud Evangelina Weinert in Bahia, she moved to Rio de Janeiro at an early age and took musical inspiration from her mother’s side of the family, where “almost everyone played an instrument”. In her mid-teens, she fell in with a group of young people she described as a “musical clan”, whose members included the famous singer Nara Leao and acclaimed guitarist João Gilberto, who helped create Bossa Nova.

Astrud and João married a few months after meeting and it was their relationship that accidentally gave rise to her recording career. In 1963 she accompanied her husband to New York to help him as a studio translator while he cut an album with jazz legend Stan Getz. When the band came to record the English lyrics for The Girl From Ipanema they needed a vocalist – and Gilberto shyly suggested she could handle the task.

“Producer Creed Taylor said he wanted to get the song done right away and looked around the room,” engineer Phil Ramone told Jazzwax in 2012. “Astrud volunteered, saying she could sing in English. Creed said, ‘Great.’ Astrud wasn’t a professional singer, but she was the only victim sitting there that night.” Although she had little time to prepare, Gilberto’s detached but sultry vocals perfectly captured the vibe of a “tall and tan and young and lovely” girl who turns the heads of everyone she passes.

The song was an instant hit and went on to win the Grammy Award for record of the year. Gilberto wasn’t credited on the track (which was released under the name Stan Getz and João Gilberto) and she only received the standard $120 session fee for her performance. However, it was the springboard for a successful solo career, beginning with 1965’s The Astrud Gilberto Album, on which she teamed up with incomparable jazz guitarist Antonio Carlos Jobim on a suite of Brazilian standards.

In Europe, she recorded an album of samba classics with James Last; and George Michael sought her out to duet on a version of Desafinado for charity album Red Hot + Rio in 1996.

The singer devoted most of her later years to campaigning against animal cruelty, but the legacy of her first recording lived on, with everyone from Frank Sinatra and Madonna to Amy Winehouse and Nat King Cole offering their own interpretations of Gilberto’s performance.

We celebrate Astrud’s life and music on Exclusive Radio with our newest station.



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