Five things about ‘Girl from Ipanema’

Satin-voiced Brazilian songstress Astrud Gilberto, who died at 83, shot to fame in the 1960s with “The Girl from Ipanema,” the song that did more than any other to export bossa nova to the world.

Here are five fast facts about the late singer’s most famous song.

– ‘Garota de Ipanema’ –
The song — “Garota de Ipanema,” in the original Portuguese — was written in 1962 by poet-lyricist Vinicius de Moraes and pianist-composer Tom Jobim.

“Vinicius and Tom,” as the duo became known, were regulars at a bar called the Veloso, in the Rio de Janeiro beachside neighborhood of Ipanema.

The song was inspired by a 17-year-old local girl, Heloisa Pinheiro, who would walk by the bar, looking “tall and tan and young and lovely,” as the English translation of the lyrics goes.

The song, originally titled “Menina que Passa” — the girl walking by — was first performed live by Moraes, Jobim, singer-songwriter-guitarist Joao Gilberto and the band Os Cariocas at a restaurant in the nearby neighborhood of Copacabana that August.

– ‘Getz/Gilberto’ –
Two years later, Jobim, Gilberto and his wife, Astrud, traveled to New York to record with American saxophonist Stan Getz, who had fallen for the silky-smooth sway of Brazilian bossa nova.

As Astrud told it, her husband said one day there would be a surprise waiting for her at the recording studio. It turned out to be an unexpected request to sing the refrain of “Garota” in English.

“That song is going to make you famous,” a wowed Getz told her.

Included on the legendary album that emerged from those sessions, “Getz/Gilberto,” Astrud Gilberto’s version of “The Girl from Ipanema” went on to become a worldwide hit, winning the Grammy for song of the year in 1965.

It would unleash a turbulent period for the young, stage-shy Astrud, then 24, who ended up leaving Gilberto for Getz and moving to the United States.

– Lost in translation? –
Critics have complained the English version of the song lost some of the original’s melancholic bossa nova charm.

In the original Portuguese, a narrator feeling “so alone” in the world sighs at the fleeting beauty brought to life by the “poem” that is the passing girl.

The English version, translated by American lyricist Norman Gimbel, is instead a song of unrequited love: “When she passes, I smile, but… she just doesn’t see.”

– Royalties row –
Astrud complained she never received the same royalties for the song as Gilberto and Getz.

She was not named in the song credits on the first version of the album, and was reportedly paid just $120 at the time, the going day rate then for session musicians in the US.

– Cover-song classic –
The track is the most-covered Brazilian song of all time, with 442 registered recordings, according to Brazil’s national copyright collection agency, ECAD.

Music icons including Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Cher, Placido Domingo and Amy Winehouse have all done versions.

One of Brazil’s biggest pop stars today, Anitta, reinvented the track in 2021, remixing it with a hip-hop beat as “Girl from Rio” — a song about a “different Rio,” closer to the favelas than posh Ipanema.

“Hot girls, where I’m from, we don’t look like models. Tan lines, big curves and the energy glows,” it goes.


© Agence France-Presse

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