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

Brazilian samba and bossa nova singer Astrud Gilberto onstage in 1965.
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Brazilian samba and bossa nova singer Astrud Gilberto onstage in 1965.

Updated June 6, 2023 at 5:01 PM ET

The singer behind one of the most recorded songs in history has died.

With her breathy vocals, Astrud Gilberto helped make the breezy and sensual "The Girl From Ipanema" into a global sensation. Her death on Monday night was confirmed by her son, bassist Marcelo Gilberto. She was 83.

The story of exactly who asked Gilberto to perform the song's breakthrough English-language version has many variations. But according to the woman herself, it was her husband — the bossa nova icon João Gilberto — who suggested it in 1963, at a recording session in New York with jazz great Stan Getz for an album called Getz/Gilberto.

Gilberto was said to have the best English in the room that day. Derisively, Getz took credit for her participation, and even cracked at the time that she was just a housewife who got a break. Though she wasn't credited for her vocal debut, and reportedly made only $120 for the session, she recorded her own solo version of the song soon after. And by her own admission, what came next was a surprise.

"I had fun doing it, and I enjoy being a part of it," she explained in a 1978 interview with WHYY's Fresh Air. "But I have never envisioned it as becoming an important thing in my life, or the beginning of a career, or anything like it."

"The Girl From Ipanema" catapulted both Gilberto and Brazil's bossa nova music onto the American music scene. Getz/Gilberto won four Grammys, including record of the year for its breakout song. After splitting with her husband, Gilberto embarked on a solo career, recording dozens of albums and collaborating with the likes of Quincy Jones and Chet Baker. In 2008, the Latin Recording Academy honored her with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Guitarist Paul Ricci, a close friend, says Gilberto was a champion of the New York 1960s and '70s jazz scene. "Astrud was the first pop radio voice to sing in that soft, intimate, sensual fashion that engineered everything," he says. Her soulful sound would become a major influence on countless other artists, including Karen Carpenter and Sade.

While Gilberto was a hit in the U.S., where she would eventually live, journalist and bossa nova historian Ruy Castro says the same wasn't true back home. "Brazil was cruel to her and didn't accept her success," he says, speaking through an interpreter. But she wisely never looked back, and made her life and career in the U.S."

These days, Brazilians and tourists alike fondly remember her and her song. Perhaps especially so in the namesake Ipanema neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, where on Tuesday, buskers could be heard performing it near the restaurant where songwriters Antônio Carlos Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes first wrote the tune for a particular teen they liked to watch walk by.

There was a sadness in the air, of course. But as Gilberto herself used to say when talking about the song's initial success, people need romance, and something dreamy for distraction. Some 60 years later, that's still true.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Elizabeth Blair
Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.
Carrie Kahn
Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 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.