Astrud Gilberto, the Brazilian singer whose soft, beguiling voice made “The Girl from Ipanema” a worldwide sensation in the 1960s and provided a huge boost to the budding bossa nova genre, has died at age 83, her family said.
“I come bearing the sad news that my grandmother became a star today and is next to my grandfather Joao Gilberto,” Sofia Gilberto wrote on social media early Tuesday, later confirming the death to AFP.
The singer died at home in Philadelphia, in the United States, where she had lived since the 1960s.
Gilberto was born in Salvador, capital of Brazil’s northeastern state of Bahia, in 1940 and was married to Joao Gilberto, a pioneer of the bossa nova genre who died in 2019.
Astrud Gilberto recorded 19 albums in her career, but she had little professional music experience when she turned “The Girl from Ipanema” — the now-classic song by Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes — into a global smash, singing the English verses alongside American saxophonist Stan Getz and her guitar-playing then-husband.
The version made Astrud Gilberto the first Brazilian to be nominated for a Grammy — which she won, for song of the year, in 1965.
Queen of bossa nova
The silky-smooth song changed Gilberto’s life, turning it upside down both personally and professionally.
As she told the story, she owed her popularity to an off-the-cuff suggestion by Joao Gilberto while they were recording it in New York to try singing a verse in English.
“That song is going to make you famous,” Getz told her in the studio.
It was apparently not just her music that wowed the saxophonist — and vice versa.
She ended up leaving her husband for Getz and moving to the United States permanently.
But that turbulent period in her life produced some of the best-loved recordings of all time, including the live album of the three friends’ concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall in October 1964.
Aged just 24 at the time, Gilberto suffered from stage fright, which she overcame by taking theatre classes at the Stella Adler acting academy. The coy young brunette wowed audiences with her satin voice, which she took on tour with Getz. She earned the nickname “The Queen of Bossa Nova,” bringing the syncopated, relaxed Brazilian musical style to the world.
But she claimed she never earned any royalties from her best-known song, saying she received just a day rate for recording it.
She remained in the US after separating from Getz, continuing her career with hits such as “Fly Me to the Moon” (1972) and “Far Away” (1977), and turning to songwriting with the albums “Astrud Gilberto Now” and “That Girl from Ipanema.”
After a career touring the world, she retired from the stage in 2001. She was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame the following year.
In 2008, she was awarded a Latin Grammy for lifetime achievement.
She devoted herself to painting and animal-rights activism in her later years.
The music world mourned the passing of one of its iconic voices.
“Farewell Astrud Gilberto,” English rocker Tim Burgess, front man for alternative rock band the Charlatans, wrote on Twitter, alongside a black-and-white video of a shy-looking Gilberto performing “Girl from Ipanema” in a vintage 60s beehive.
“Her contribution to bring Brazilian music to the world was immeasurable. Her incomparable swing and good taste will remain with me always,” American musician Mark Lambert wrote on Instagram.
It was the latest loss for Brazilian music lovers, after rock icon Rita Lee died last month at age 75 and popular music legend Gal Costa, a leading figure in the “Tropicalia” movement, died in November at 77.
Bebel Gilberto, Joao Gilberto’s daughter and a singer-songwriter herself, called Astrud her “eternal Muse.”
“(May) you sing with birds and angels,” she wrote on Instagram. — AFP