The Girl From Ipanema – The Story Behind the Song

Whilst many styles of jazz seemingly emerged gradually, the bossa nova craze that swept America and the wider world in the mid-sixties can be traced largely to one song: The Girl From Ipanema.

Written in 1962 by Antônio Carlos Jobim with Portuguese lyrics by Vinícius de Moraes, The Girl From Ipanema was originally titled ‘Menina que Passa’ (‘The Girl Who Passes By’) and set to be featured in a musical comedy entitled Dirigivel.

Fast forward to the present day and it is reportedly the second most recorded pop song of all time!

[Got a guess for which song took the #1 spot? Head to the end of the article to see the answer…]

As with so many successful songs it may never have been a hit at all, but for sheer luck, perfect timing and coincidence. And for the vocalist Astrud Gilberto, she was (finances aside) the right person in the right place at the right time…

Who Was The Girl From Ipanema?

The inspiration for the song came from a young woman, Heloísa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto who lived in Montenegro Street in Ipanema.

The seventeen year old Heloísa would be noticed walking past the Veloso bar-café as part of her daily routine, and one day going about her normal business she caught the attention of the composers.

Leaving an impression of youth and grace, to Moraes and Jobim she became the girl from Ipanema.

The popularity of the song would elevate the teenager to celebrity status, and in the years that followed would be known as Helô Pinheiro a model and successful businesswoman. 

Stan Getz: Bossa Nova Pioneer

Renowed Cool Jazz saxophonist Stan Getz had already released several bossa nova albums, the million seller Jazz Samba with guitarist Charlie Byrd, and Big Band Bossa Nova featuring the tenor saxophonist playing arrangements by Gary McFarland both released in 1962.

A further album released the following year featuring Brazilian singer and guitarist Luiz Bonfá called, Jazz Samba Encore! was less successful.

Undeterred, and still under the spell of bossa nova, Stan Getz teamed up with Brazilian guitarist João Gilberto to record, primarily, the songs of Antônio Carlos Jobim.

The resulting album, Getz/Gilberto was released in 1964 became another million seller and one of the most famous jazz albums of all time.

The success of the album was arguably down to the track ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ which came out as a 45rpm single. Sung by Astrud Gilberto, it went on to sell more than five million copies worldwide.

The Ipanema Sessions

During the recording session for the album that took place on 18 and 19 March, 1963 it was decided that a version with lyrics in English would be a good idea.

Norman Gimbel was on hand to write the English lyrics, and ‘Garota de Ipanema’ quickly became ‘The Girl From Ipanema’. 

There was just one problem: no one available with a good enough command of the language to sing the song in English.

That was, apart from João’s wife Astrud who had come along to the studio.

Although she had never recorded professionally before, she was an experienced vocalist having sung on stage with her husband and what followed catapulted the 22 year-old singer to worldwide fame.

She laid down vocals for the track, as well as another song – ‘Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars)’.

Getz, Gilberto and producer Creed Taylor quickly realised they had something special, with her gentle voice, almost a quiet whisper, a perfect fit for the song and for Getz’s warm yet light toned tenor playing.

Girl From Ipanema: Let’s Talk Money

The astronomical success of the single ensured good sales for the full album too, and Getz is said to have been remuneration handsomely for his work.

However, whilst the success of the song may have helped launch Astrud’s career, she did not benefit financially.

She was reportedly paid just $120 which was the standard rate for her contribution – although the saxophonist was apparently insistent that she should be paid nothing.

In her own words, she was manipulated by “wolves posing as sheep”.

Both Getz and Creed Taylor claimed credit for the discovery, with the singer later commenting: “in fact, nothing is further from the truth. I guess it made them look important to have been the one that had the ‘wisdom’ to recognise potential in my singing… I can’t help but feel annoyed that they resorted to lying.”

As a result of the way the song was credited for royalties, Astrud Gilberto received indeed received no additional financial remuneration for her contribution.

The injustice continues when it transpires that her husband at the time (they divorced a short time afterwards in 1964) received a 5-figure amount via royalties while Getz, securing the largest amount, is rumoured to have bought a mansion with his share that amounted to nearly $1 million.

The injustice and inequality of the music business may have reared its ugly head – unfortunately just one of many such instances – but the music that came from the session has left us with a timeless gem.

Other Versions of The Girl From Ipanema

Inducted into the Latin Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001, the song has proved to be an inspiration for many artists of all types.

Focusing on the jazz world, here are just a handful of versions which have made it onto record…

[And we didn’t forget: the song which took the top spot for the most-recorded song in history was John Lennon/Paul McCartney’s ‘Yesterday’. Top marks if you got it right – here’s a beautiful modern version of that by the Joshua Espinoza Trio!]

4 thoughts on “The Girl From Ipanema – The Story Behind the Song”

  1. The 1964 Getz-Gilberto album was a favorite of mine in my freshman year in college in 1965 at the University of Georgia. I played it constantly, and it made me a life-long fan of Brazilian samba. Stan Getz is a great musician, but this story makes me think less of him as a person.

  2. I have been a serious Jobim fan since I heard Ipanema when I should have been too young to know it. I am a professional vocalist & dam wish I could find a band to perform this stuff and many other classy & forgotten songs. (P.S-I’m good!)


Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.