The inspiration for the song “The Girl from Ipanema” turns 50!

Posted: July 21, 2012 in Music
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I’m sure you’ve heard the classic song from Tom Jobim and Joao Gilberto with the help from the poet Vinicius de Moraes who composed the lyrics to the famous song. As the legend goes, the song was inspired by a young 18 year old girl that walked past the beach side bar where the two song writers were nursing their drinks. She was headed to the beach.

Actually the writers were beginning work on a musical comedy conceived by de Moraes about a martian that arrives in Rio during the height of Carnaval. both Jobim and Moraes were working on a song that they named “Menina que Passa” or (“The Girl Who Passes By”). Unfortunately for them they were stuck on some lyrics and needed a fresh take on the song, something that would stir their alien vistor’s blood in their musical comedy. What they did was conjure up the vision of the young girl that they saw and changed the song’s lyrics and name to “Garota da Ipanema” or (“The Girl from Ipanema”).

The song stepped into the public in August of 1962 in a cramped Copacabana nightclub called Au Bon Gourmet. On stage together for the first and only time were Tom Jobim on piano and Joao Gilberto on guitar, with help from the poet Vinicius de Moraes, who gave “The Girl” her lyrics. Also performing was the vocal group Os Cariocas.

According to Serverino Filho, an original member of the group Os Cariocas, Tom and Vinicius had just composed the song and it was still on a scrap piece of paper when he fist heard the song sung.

Most Americans just started hearing about Bossa Nova in 1962 when the record Jazz Samba by Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd, took the sound of Brazil and made it palatable to the country’s listeners. But it wasn’t until 1964 that “The Girl” came to the U.S.

If the song just came through in it’s original glory it might have never been a hit in the U.S. BUT it turns out that in March of 1963, Astrud Gilberto was in the studio with her husband Joao. Joao and Jobim were making a record with tenor saxman Stan Getz. The idea of cutting a verse on “Ipanema” in English came up, and Astrud was the only one of the Brazilians who spoke more than phrasebook English. What came from that recording was the version of “The Girl” that shot up the charts past the Beatles “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and peaked at number 5 mid-June of ’64, selling over two million copies.

By 1965 The Getz/Gilberto album eventually won the Grammy for best album of the year prompting a lot of people to talk about “The Girl” except for the actual girl herself.

Heloisa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto, then 18 years old known to her friends as Helo had no idea that she was the inspiration. The teenager in those days would spend her days between home, school, and the beach, a path that often took her by the bar where de Moraes and Jobim spent hours at. Their eyes would follow Helo when she passed, entranced with her glowing skin and long dark hair. In fact when Helo first heard the tune she liked it. She never suspected that she was the inspiration for the lyrics. It was in 1965 that Moraes offered the dfinitive proof, writing in a magazine that Helo was the beauty behind the song “the golden girl, mix of flower and mermaid, full of light and grace, but whose sight is also sad because it carries within it, on the way to the sea, the sense of youth that passes, of beauty that doesn’t belong only to us”

Helo grew up and had a traditional upbringing and the song did little to change that. She didn’t embrace the notoriety at first, as she spent the next decade as a housewife. Now at 68, she does two TV shows and is planning to launch a book in English about her past.



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