One of the most seductive bossa nova songs ever written and certainly the most popular is The Girl From Ipanema. Over the years, much myth has surrounded the song's origins, especially about how the song was written by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes. One thing is certain—the tall and tan and young and lovely girl who served as the songwriters' inspiration is still living in Brazil (she's now 62 and happily married). More on her in a minute.
Composed in the winter of 1962 by Jobim (music) and de Moraes (who wrote the Portuguese lyrics), Garota de Ipanema was first commercially recorded by Brazilian singer Pery Ribeiro on his 1962 album Pery E' Todo Bossa [pictured]. The album's record label was Odeon, where Jobim was musical director. Soon afterward Norman Gimbel wrote the English lyrics and Jobim traveled to the U.S. with Joao Gilberto to appear at Carnegie Hall with Stan Getz.
In March 1963, the group recorded The Girl From Ipanema with Gilberto's wife Astrud on vocals. The song appeared on the album Getz/Gilberto and became an instant hit as a single, climbing to No. 5 on the Billboard Top Pop chart and No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart (Getz's take on Bob Dylan's Blowin' in the Wind was on the flip side).
In the years since The Girl From Ipanema reached the top of the charts and was recorded by hundreds of pop and jazz artists worldwide, a legend emerged about where the song was written and under what circumstances. This legend seems to have been created to satisfy Ipanema tourists and bossa nova fans. Most of the romantic stories involve Jobim and de Moraes writing side by side in a bar after watching the same girl go by day after day.
"Jobim and Vinícius did not write Garôta de Ipanema in the Veloso bar [pictured today], which was on the street that used to be known as Rua Montenegro. Jobim composed the melody meticulously on the piano at his new home in Rua Barro da Torre...Vinícius, in turn, had written the lyrics in Petrópolis, near Rio, as he had done with Chega de Saudade six years earlier, and it took him just as much work. To begin with, it wasn't originally called Garota da Ipanema, but Menina que passa (The Girl Who Passes By), and the entire first verse was different.
As for the famous girl, Jobim and Vinícius did in fact see her pass by as they sat in the Veloso bar, during the winter of 1962—not just once, but several times, and not always on her way to the beach but also on her way to school, to the dressmaker, and even to the dentist.
Mostly because Heloísa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto, better known as Helô, who was eighteen years of age, five feet, eight inches tall, with green eyes and long, flowing black hair, lived in Rua Montenegro and was already the object of much admiration among patrons of the Veloso, where she would frequently stop to buy cigarettes for her mother—and leave to a cacophony of wolf-whistles."
So what became of Helo? Scott Vogel of The Washington Post back in January wrote a lovely piece on her, now Heloisa Pinheiro [pictured], after being invited by her husband to visit her dress shop in Sao Paulo. Helo told Vogel that when she first heard the song on the radio in 1962, she was already aware of the rumors that the song was written for her:
"But it's not for me," she recalled telling herself. "I didn't believe it. I [thought] it was so beautiful, so beautiful that it's not for me."
Without an official announcement, girls all over Rio started claiming they were the girl of Ipanema Beach fame. So de Moraes finally announced there was only one girl from Ipanema and that it was Helo. Soon afterward photographers from all over the world flocked to the flat she shared with her mom, who kept her from traveling to the U.S. for fear she'd wind up on drugs, corrupted or both.
"When I die—this is good for you to put in your article—I think I am eternity because the history exists and you can't wipe it out."
And how. You can read Vogel's article about his visit with The Girl from Ipanema here.
Tomorrow, a list of my 10 favorite recordings of the song and some other bits of Ipanema information.