Astrud Gilberto obituary: Queen of Brazilian bossa nova

The singer enjoyed a four-decade recording career, but her biggest success came with 1960s hit The Girl from Ipanema

Born: March 29th, 1940

Died: June 5th, 2023

Astrud Gilberto, whose soft and sexy vocal performance on The Girl from Ipanema, the first song she ever recorded, helped make the sway of Brazilian bossa nova a hit sound in the 1960s, has died aged 83.

Gilberto enjoyed a four-decade recording career, cutting albums with celebrated musicians such as Gil Evans, Stanley Turrentine and James Last, as well as working with George Michael and others. But her biggest success came with The Girl from Ipanema, written by Antônio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes, with English lyrics by Norman Gimbel, which she sang on record with American jazz saxophonist Stan Getz.

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When Gilberto recorded that song she was married to João Gilberto, the Brazilian singer and guitarist often referred to as the father of the bossa nova. In 1963, the two of them travelled from Rio de Janeiro to New York City, where he was set to record a joint album with Getz.

Exactly who had the idea to involve Gilberto, an untested singer, on the album, later released as Getz/Gilberto, is unclear. Some credit its producer, Creed Taylor; others credit Astrud Gilberto. The singer credited her husband. “While rehearsing with Stan,” Gilberto said in a 2002 interview for her official website, “João casually asked me to join in and sing a chorus in English after he had just sung the first chorus in Portuguese.”

“I’ll never forget that 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’.”

It helped that the version of the song released as a single in 1964 featured only Gilberto’s vocal and not her husband’s. With her sweetly wistful voice to guide it, the record went on to sell more than one million copies. The Girl from Ipanema became one of the most-covered songs in pop music history. Gilberto’s whispery voice, although limited in range and power, had a genuine ache and mystery to it, as well as the ability to evoke images of summers imagined or lost.

Astrud Evangelina Weinert was born on March 29th, 1940, in Bahia, Brazil, to a German father, Fritz Weinert, a language professor, and a Brazilian mother, Evangelina Weinert, who was also an educator.

When Astrud was a girl, her family moved to Rio. She met João Gilberto when she was 19 and they married several months later.

After the song became a smash hit, Getz and Taylor, the producer, described Gilberto in the press as a housewife they had discovered — a characterisation that angered her, given the years she had spent privately singing with her friends and her husband. “I can’t help but to feel annoyed at the fact that they resorted to lying,” she is quoted as saying on her website.

She was also experiencing tension in her marriage and soon began a brief, fraught affair with Getz. She and her husband divorced shortly after.

While her music was respectfully received by American pop critics, Gilberto never earned a parallel response from critics in Brazil, who felt she had lucked into her career. As a result, Gilberto, who had emigrated to America in the mid-1960s, performed in her native country only once.

She also complained of being treated poorly by her record company. She told the New York Times in 1981: “I was doing a great deal of producing of my own albums. I got no credit.”

She is survived by Marcelo Gilberto, her son from her first marriage, and another son, Gregory Lasorsa, from her second marriage, to Nicholas Lasorsa, which ended in divorce, and two granddaughters.