The honey-toned chanteuse on the surprise Brazilian crossover hit “The Girl From Ipanema,” Astrud Gilberto parlayed her previously unscheduled appearance (and professional singing debut) on the song into a lengthy career that resulted in nearly a dozen albums for Verve and a successful performing career that lasted into the ’90s. Though her appearance at the studio to record “The Girl From Ipanema” was due only to her husband João, one of the most famed Brazilian artists of the century, Gilberto’s singular, quavery tone and undisguised naïveté propelled the song into the charts and influenced a variety of sources in worldwide pop music.
Born in Bahia, Gilberto moved to Rio de Janeiro at an early age. She’d had no professional musical experience of any kind until 1963, the year of her visit to New York with her husband, João Gilberto, in a recording session headed by Stan Getz. Getz had already recorded several albums influenced by Brazilian rhythms, and Verve teamed him with the cream of Brazilian music, Antonio Carlos Jobim and João Gilberto, for his next album. Producer Creed Taylor wanted a few English vocals for maximum crossover potential, and as it turned out, Astrud was the only Brazilian present with any grasp of the language. After her husband laid down his Portuguese vocals for the first verse of his and Jobim’s composition, “The Girl From Ipanema,” Astrud provided a hesitant, heavily accented second verse in English.
Not even credited on the resulting LP, Getz/Gilberto, Astrud finally gained fame over a year later, when “The Girl From Ipanema” became a number five hit in mid-1964. The album became the best-selling jazz album up to that point, and made Gilberto a star across America. Before the end of the year, Verve capitalized on the smash with the release of Getz Au Go Go, featuring a Getz live date with Gilberto’s vocals added later. Her first actual solo album, The Astrud Gilberto Album, was released in May 1965. Though it barely missed the Top 40, the LP’s blend of Brazilian classics and ballad standards proving quite infectious with easy listening audiences.
Though she never returned to the pop charts in America, Verve proved to be quite understanding for Astrud Gilberto’s career, pairing her with ace arranger Gil Evans for 1966′s Look to the Rainbow and Brazilian organist/arranger Walter Wanderley for the dreamy A Certain Smile, a Certain Sadness, released later that year. She remained a huge pop star in Brazil for the rest of the 1960s and ’70s, but gradually disappeared in America after her final album for Verve in 1969. In 1971, she released a lone album for CTI (with Stanley Turrentine) but was mostly forgotten in the U.S. until 1984, when “Girl From Ipanema” recharted in Britain on the tails of a neo-bossa craze. Gilberto gained worldwide distribution for 1987′s Astrud Gilberto Plus the James Last Orchestra and 2002′s Jungle. The woman who made bossa nova a sensation in North America was silenced when Astrud Gilberto’s death was confirmed by her son on June 5, 2023; she was 83 years of age. ~ John Bush