© 2023 KSUT Public Radio
NPR News and Music Discovery for the Four Corners
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Astrud Gilberto, 'The Girl from Ipanema' singer, dies at 83

: [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this story, Walter Escobar was mistakenly identified as Leo Rivas.]

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Next, we have a story behind one of the most covered pop songs in history.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA")

ASTRUD GILBERTO: (Singing) Tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes walking. And when she passes, each one she passes goes, ah.

INSKEEP: "The Girl From Ipanema" popularized Brazilian bossa nova in the United States and beyond, thanks to the singing of Astrud Gilberto. It was the first song she ever recorded. It brought her worldwide recognition, but not royalties. Gilberto died Monday at the age of 83. NPR's Carrie Kahn is in Ipanema, Brazil. She's the reporter from Ipanema.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: There have been many versions of who asked Astrud Gilberto to sing in English "The Girl From Ipanema." But she says it was her husband, the bossa nova icon Joao Gilberto, who suggested it while they were in New York in 1963, recording with the jazz great Stan Getz.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA")

GILBERTO: (Singing) When she walks, she's like a samba that swings so cool and sways so gently.

KAHN: Gilberto was said to have the best English in the room that day. Derisively, Getz took credit for her participation, even cracked at the time that she was just a housewife who got a break. But after that first recording with her husband, she recorded the song solo.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA")

GILBERTO: (Singing) But each day when she walks to the sea, she looks straight ahead, not at he.

KAHN: And in a 1978 interview on WHYY's Fresh Air, Gilberto said what came next was surprising.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GILBERTO: I had fun doing it, and I enjoy being part of it. But I had never envisioned it as becoming an important thing in my life or a beginning of a career or anything like it.

KAHN: The song would catapult Gilberto and Brazil's bossa nova music onto the American scene. She won the Grammy's record of the year in 1964, and after splitting with her husband, embarked on a solo career recording dozens of albums. Guitarist Paul Ricci, who confirmed her death from her son Marcelo, says Gilberto was a champion of the New York 1960s and '70s jazz scene, and her soulful sound influenced many artists.

PAUL RICCI: Astrud was the first pop radio voice to sing in that soft microphone, intimate, sensual fashion that engendered everything.

KAHN: Among those, music historians say she influenced artists from Karen Carpenter to Sade. While she was a hit in the U.S., which she later called home, journalist and bossa nova historian Ruy Castro says Brazilians were not kind to her.

RUY CASTRO: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: "Brazil was cruel to her and didn't accept her success, but she wisely never looked back," he says, "and made her life and career in the U.S."

These days, Brazilians and tourists alike fondly remember her and her song, especially in the namesake Ipanema neighborhood.

RAFAEL DE MENEZES: (Singing in non-English language).

KAHN: Rafael de Menezes plays his banjo for tips outside the Girl From Ipanema restaurant and bar, a popular stop on the Rio tourist trail. Jose Rodriguez has been waiting tables inside for 15 years and points to the one where two Brazilian songwriters penned the song for a teen they liked to watch walk by.

JOSE RODRIGUEZ: (Singing in non-English language).

KAHN: Most days, he says, he, too, was asked to sing the song for tourist tips.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: A block away on Ipanema Beach, where vendors sell everything from cookies to strong drinks, Peruvian tourist Leo Rivas was pouring back a caipirinha with his feet in the sand and ready to show off his Portuguese rendition.

WALTER ESCOBAR: (Singing in Portuguese).

KAHN: Rivas says he's saddened by her passing, but as Gilberto herself said when talking about the song's original success, people need romance and something dreamy for distraction - still true some 60 years later.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA")

GILBERTO: (Singing) And when she passes, he smiles. But she doesn't see.

KAHN: Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Ipanema, Brazil.

(SOUNDBITE OF ASTRUD GILBERTO SONG, "THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.