Astrud Gilberto, whose smooth, sexy vocal performance on “The Girl From Ipanema,” the first song she ever recorded, helped make the Brazilian bossa nova-influenced sound a hit in the U.S. in the 1960s, died on Monday . She was 83 years old.
Paul Ricci, a musician and family friend, announced on Facebook that Ms Gilberto’s son Marcelo said she had died and “asked for this to be published”. I have not provided any further details.
Ms. 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 Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonfa, with English lyrics by Norman Gimbel.
When Ms. Gilberto recorded that song, she was married to João Gilberto, the Brazilian singer and guitarist often referred to as the father of bossa nova. In 1963, the two traveled from Rio de Janeiro to New York City, where she was to record a joint album with jazz saxophonist Stan Getz, who had already released three albums mixing jazz with samba and bossa nova.
Just who had the idea of involving Ms. Gilberto, an inexperienced singer, in the album, later released as “Getz/Gilbert,” it is not clear. Some credit its producer, Creed Taylor; others credit Signora Gilberto. The singer herself has credited her husband.
“While rehearsing with Stan on 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,” Ms. Gilberto said in a 2002 interview for its official website. “Stan has been very receptive. I’ll never forget that while we were listening to the newly recorded version, Stan said to me: ‘This song will make you famous’”.
It helped that the version of the song released as a single in 1964 featured only Signora Gilberto’s vocals and not her husband’s. With her sweetly melancholic voice guiding it, the record climbed to #5 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and sold more than a million copies. It won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year, and the album that contained it, which included another vocal track by Ms. Gilberto, won three Grammys, including Album of the Year. It was the first album by a jazz artist to earn this distinction and one of only two ever to do so. (River: The Joni Letters by Herbie Hancock, more than 40 years later, was second.)
“The Girl From Ipanema” reportedly became the second most covered song in pop history, after the Beatles’ “Yesterday”. He has appeared in more than 50 films, many of which use Getz-Gilberto’s original version.
Signora Gilberto’s whispered voice, though limited in range and power, had a genuine pain and mystery, as well as the ability to conjure up images of imagined or lost summers. “Her languid, affectionless voice floated lazily like a leaf in the Carioca breeze,” wrote journalist and author James Gavin in the liner notes for the 2001 collection “Astrud Gilberto Gold.” “You could almost hear the surf breaking and the seagulls crying as she sang.”
Mr. Getz understood her appeal immediately. “When I first heard Astrud,” she told a British reporter in 1964, “I thought there was something innocent and demure about her voice—such an opposite to these busty-voiced girls who sing rock ‘n ‘roll”.
Her breathy singing influenced scores of later artists, including Sade, Tracey Thorn, of the duo Everything but the Girl, and Basia, who acknowledged that influence by writing a song called “Astrud”.
Astrud Evangelina Weinert was born on March 29, 1940 in Bahia, Brazil, to a German father, Fritz Weinert, a professor of languages, and a Brazilian mother, Evangelina Weinert, also an educator.
When Astrud was a girl, her family moved to Rio, where, in her teens, she befriended a group of young musicians who later became famous in Brazil, including singer Nara Leao and singer-songwriter Roberto Menescal. She met Mr. Gilberto when he was 19 and they married several months later.
He began singing privately with his musical circle of friends, which grew to include more established names such as Mr. Bonfa and Vinicius de Moraes. It was Mr. Moraes who wrote the original lyrics for “The Girl From Ipanema,” named after a beach neighborhood in Rio where he and Mr. Jobim used to watch a beautiful woman they longed to walk.
After the song became a hit, Mr. Getz and Mr. Taylor, the producer, described Mrs. Gilberto in the press as a housewife they had discovered – a characterization which angered her, given the years she had spent in sing privately with her friends and her husband. “I can’t help but feel annoyed that they resorted to lying,” she said on her website.
She was also experiencing strain in her marriage and soon began a short and tense relationship with Mr. Getz. (She and her husband divorced soon after.) She toured the United States with Mr. Getz, billed as guest singer; the resulting live album, “Getz Au Go Go,” presented her in five tracks.
The success of that album led to a solo deal with Verve Records, Mr. Getz’s label, which released “The Astrud Gilberto album” in 1965. Though it narrowly missed Billboard’s Pop Top 40, it was nominated for Grammy Album of the Year. For his third album, “Look at the rainbow”, he broadened his sound by working with arranger Gil Evans, best known for his work with Miles Davis.
While her music was respectfully received by American pop critics, Ms. Gilberto never garnered a parallel response from Brazilian critics, who felt she had luck in her career. As a result, Mrs. Gilberto, who emigrated to America in the mid-1960s, performed in her native country only once.
(However, “The Girl From Ipanema” was popular enough in Brazil to be performed the opening ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro by Daniel Jobim, the composer’s nephew, as model Gisele Bündchen crossed the stage and the audience sang.)
She also complained that she was treated poorly by her record company. “There was a problem collecting what was mine,” she told The New York Times in 1981. “I was doing a lot to produce my albums. I have no credit.
After releasing eight albums on Verve, Gilberto signed to Creed Taylor’s label CTI Records in 1971 and recorded one album with saxophonist Stanley Turrentine.
In the 1980s, he recorded with the James Last Orchestra and began expanding his reach by writing his own material. In 1992, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Latin Jazz USA. Four years later, he sang a duet with George Michael “out of tune” for the album “Red Hot Rio”, profits from which benefited AIDS-related causes. In 2002 he released his latest album, “Jungle,” and withdrew from public performances.
In addition to Marcelo Gilberto, her son from her first marriage, Signora Gilberto is survived by another son, Gregory Lasorsa, from her second marriage, to Nicholas Lasorsa, which ended in divorce, and two grandchildren. Both of her sons are musicians who have often worked with her. João Gilberto died in 2019.
In an interview included in the liner notes for a reissue of “Getz/Gilberto” in 1996, Ms. Gilberto marveled at the impact her first recording had in the United States. “Americans generally aren’t very curious about styles from other countries,” she said. “But our music was Brazilian music in a modern form.”
He added that he thought the timing also had something to do with the song’s twist, right after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
“People needed a little romance,” she said, “something dreamy to distract them.”