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Pianist, Guitarist, Singer & Entertainer

The story of the real girl from Ipanema

It's a song of sensuality that entices men everywhere to dream.  It evokes the fantasy of an exotic beach where warm waves kiss the shore, where breezes whisper through the palms, and where there is a woman, a dream woman, an ideal woman who embodies the elusive essence of everything that is desirable.

The Girl from Ipanema was awarded the 1964 Grammy as Best Song of the Year, it ranks 21st on BMI's list of most performed songs of all time, and is one of the most recorded songs in history, having been vocalized by Astrid Gilberto, Stan Getz, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Madonna, Cher, and many others.  While its credentials are impressive, the real fascination is the story behind the song and the girl who inspired it.

The year 1962 was a banner year for Antonio Carlos "Tom" Jobim.  The Brazilian songwriter's tune, Desafinado, had just been recorded by Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd and the attention of the Jazz world shifted to the 35 year old Jobim, who, at the end of the year, was invited to perform his music at Carnegie Hall with Byrd, Getz, Dizzy Gillespie and Joao Gilberto.  This was the latest achievement in a career that took shape in 1958 when Jobim collaborated with guitarist/vocalist Joao Gilberto, vocalist Elizete Cardoso and lyricist Vinicius de Moraes to produce a set of recordings, one of which was Chega de Saudade, which proved to be the beginning of the "Bossa Nova" ("New Trend") movement.

1962 was also the year that Jobim saw the girl.

Ipanema is a trendy, rather artsy neighborhood in south Rio de Janeiro.  To the west is the upscale area of Leblon and to the east is Aproador and Copacabana.  A block off Ipanema Beach, on the northwest corner of Rua Montenegro and Rua Prudente de Moraes was Tom Jobim's favorite hang-out, the Bar Veloso.  A veranda-style, open-air cafe, this was the place to drink beer, smoke cigarettes, read the paper, chat with friends, and watch the pretty girls.

Almost every day a certain girl passed by the Veloso. Often in her school uniform, sometimes in her two-piece bathing suit she was, of course, tall, and tan, and young and lovely with long brown hair and green eyes and a rather sensual way of swaying her hips.   She did not go unnoticed by Jobim and friends who often greeted her with whistles and cat-calls.  The girl, however, never responded to the men.  Never did she stop to talk; indeed never did she even make eye contact with bar's patrons.  Each day when she walked to the sea, she looked straight ahead, not at anyone else.  And Jobim was in love.      

Basically a shy man, Jobim was afraid to approach the girl.  At the time he was married with two children and knew he had to be at least twice her age, but that did not prevent a budding infatuation.  Eventually he convinced his old lyricist buddy Vinicius de Moraes to come by the Veloso to see this girl.  After several days of waiting the girl finally walked past.  Jobim remarked "Nao a coisa mais linda?" (Isn't she the prettiest thing?), to which de Moraes replied, "E a coisa cheia de gracia." (She's full of grace.).  This sparked the creativity in  de Moraes who wrote those two lines on a napkin.  The lines provided the basis for the opening two lines of the original, Portuguese version of A Garota de Ipanema (The Girl from Ipanema).

Jobim and de Moraes were, at the time, collaborating on the music and lyrics for a play entitled Blimp so it took some time  to complete the song.  Originally titled Menina que Passa (Girl Who Passes), Jobim first performed the song in Rio on August 12, 1962.  It was a shoo-in to be part of a Jazz album being put together by Verve Records with Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto featuring some of Jobim's music.  In March, 1963, Tom and Joao flew up to New York to record the album.  They also took along Joao's wife Astrid because she was the only one who spoke any English.   

At the recording studio it was decided that Menina que Passa needed a more Rio sounding title so it was changed to A Garota de Ipanema.  Also, producer Creed Taylor felt the song should have English lyrics.  Fortunately, the group had met lyricist Norman Gimbel from BMI several months before when they played Carnegie Hall and it was Gimbel who wrote the English lyrics.  The next task was to find someone to sing those English lyrics.  There is some dispute as to how it was decided, but Joao's wife, Astrid, was selected to sing because, although she never sang professionally, she had a soft sexy voice, she could hold a tune, and at least she could pronounce the English words.

When the album was released in 1964 under the title Getz/Gilberto by Verve Records the first cut on the album was The Girl from Ipanema.  It featured Joao Gilberto strumming his guitar and singing the original Portuguese lyrics followed by Astrid Gilberto with the English lyrics.  Track 9 was the 45 rpm release of the Astrid Gilberto English version and track 10 was the flip-side of the 45; another of Jobim's music entitled Corcovada

Back home in Rio, the song was an instant success.  Brazil was the midst of an economic recovery and, having won the last two World Cups, the country was riding high.  The international success of The Girl from Ipanema was another example of the miracle that was Brazil. That miracle was to end two years later when economic mismanagement, corruption, and a military dictatorship took over, but in the meantime Brazil was young and hopeful.

As can be imagined, the big question in Ipanema was the identity of the inspiration for the song.  Jobim and de Moraes remained mysterious on the subject.  Some people believed there was no real girl, only the creation of a poet's imagination.  Others thought they knew better; many women flattered themselves, claiming to be THE GIRL.  A cottage industry even grew.  All you had to do was take some pictures of a pretty girl and sell them to dumb tourists claiming the girl in the picture was THE GIRL.

Helosa Eneida de Menezes Paes Pinto was a born and raised Rio de Janeiro girl a true carioca.  The daughter of an army general from whom her mother divorced when Hel was 4, she grew up on the Rua Montenegro, some blocks up from the Bar Veloso.  At age 17 she was shy and quite self-conscious: she had crooked teeth, she felt she was too skinny, she suffered from frequent asthma attacks, and she had an allergy that reddened her face.  And on her way to and from school and on her treks to the beach, she had to walk by the Bar Veloso. 

Although the song had been around since 1962, it wasn't until 1964 that Hel learned the truth.  Friends introduced her to Tom Jobim, who still hadn't worked up the courage to talk with her.  But with the ice finally broken, he set out to win her heart.  On their second date, he stated his love for her and asked her to marry him.  But she turned him down.  Two things got in the way.  Hel knew Tom was married and that he was experienced, whereas she was inexperienced and would not make him a good wife.  The other was that she had been dating a handsome young lad named Fernando Pinheiro from a prosperous family in Leblon since she was 15.  Undaunted by her refusal, Tom told her that she was the inspiration for the song.  This confirmed the rumors she had heard from others and, of course, thrilled her beyond imagination, but she still turned him down.

The world would not learn the truth until 1965.  Tired of all the gossip and particularly concerned that a contest was going to be held to select the girl from Ipanema Vinicius de Moraes held a press conference.  In a detoxification clinic in Rio where he was undergoing treatment (you've got to love poets), and with Hel at his side, de Moraes told the world.  And he offered her one more testament:

"She is a golden girl, a mixture of flowers and mermaids, full of light and full of grace, but whose character is also sad with the feeling that youth passes and that beauty isn't ours to keep.  She is the gift of life with its beautiful and melancholic constant ebb and flow."

Immediately she became a sensation.  Offers of movie stardom, modeling contracts, and trips around the world came.  However, this was the sixties, this was macho Brazil, and she was a good girl.

In her 1996 autobiography, Por Causa do Amor, she writes:  The middle class philosophy was to discourage and even repress any attempts to do anything other than bringing up children and being the perfect housewife.  Fernando, to whom she was recently engaged, and her army general father refused to allow her, at age 21, to leave home.  Being a loving fiance and an obedient daughter she had no choice.  She had to turn down all offers.

It may be difficult today to believe that someone would turn down certain fame and fortune to be a housewife, but times were different.  In 1960 less than 12% of all jobs in Brazil were held by women and only 20% of all college students were women.  The machismo rule was in effect.  Remember, this is the country where, until 1991, it was legal for a man to kill his wife if he thought she was cheating on him.      

So Hel married Fernando Pinheiro in 1966 and settled in to live the life of the perfect housewife.  Twelve years later, however, things changed.

1978 was the pivotal year for Hel Pinheiro and her family because of two misfortunes.  The first was that because the military government relaxed its trade laws causing increased foreign imports, her husband's iron and steel business failed, the family lost its money, and Fernando was without a job.  The second was the birth of her fourth child, Fernando Jr. who suffered from numerous medical problems.   

Realizing her financial obligations, she turned to the only asset she had.  I never wanted to use it that way, she said.  It was a romantic thing, a gift of love.  I never wanted to commercialize it.  Out of respect I didn't want to exploit it.  But she had no choice.  The girl from Ipanema was back. 

The modeling assignments and TV appearances soon came.  She became a radio talk-show host and a gossip columnist.  Soon she opened her own modeling agency, began organizing beauty pageants, and attached her endorsement to over 100 different products.

Her name, her charm, and her hard work eventually gained her success.  You move mountains, she said, when it comes to providing for your children.  

She has relaxed a bit now that her children are grown.  Hel and Fernando live in Sao Paolo with their son Fernando Jr who suffers from serious learning difficulties.  Her daughter Kiki is a former model turned business-woman, daughter Georgiani is a psychologist, and daughter Ticiane is a very successful super-model.  Hel's main occupation these days centers on her Garota de Ipanema boutiques in Sao Paolo and Rio where she sells a variety a women's beachwear.  And at the age of you do the math Hel is still a looker.  She and Ticiane appeared in a photo shoot in the March 2003 issue of the Brazilian Playboy magazine.

In the sixties, Hel was the icon of Brazilian femininity.  Today she is an example of it.  Whereas in 1960 when less than 12% of the workforce was female, today it is over 40%, and 2/5s of those women earn more than their spouses.  Of course, the typical Brazilian woman earns only 66% that of her male counterpart (in the US that average is 76%).  A full 50% of Brazilian women have jobs today.  Both Brazil and Hel Paes Pinto have come a long way since those innocent days back in the early sixties. 

Interesting Sidelights:

Hel was one of the very few girls on Ipanema beach to wear a two-piece swimsuit.  Nowadays, when we think of the beaches of Rio we think of butt-floss and band-aids so it is difficult to think there was a time when a modest two-piece swimsuit that barely exposed the navel was considered daring.  But Rio was different then, and it certainly was not the French Riviera where the bikini was in style.  When the Girl from Ipanema contests that de Moraes reacted against continued, the girls who took part knew they were being compared to a girl who wore a two-piece swimsuit.  So they knew they had to become daring.  As daring as Hel at first, then more daring than the previous year's winner as the contests continued.  The more daring the girls became, the skimpier the swimsuits became.  The evolution of the Brazilian bikini and the string bikini is traced directly back to this contest and therefore back to the youthful Helosa.

The 45 rpm release of The Girl from Ipanema was, according to Billboard, the fifth best selling song in the world in 1964 (the other four were Beatle songs) and was awarded the Grammy as best song of the year.  According to a 1996 United Kingdom Channel 4 production Without Walls: The Girl from Ipanema that recording is the fifth most played record in the history of the world. 

There are various stories as to how Astrid Gilberto was selected to sing the English version.   One is that Astrid claims it was her husband, Joao, who argued that she should sing the English version because he was singing the Portuguese version, another story is that it was Stan Getz's wife Monica who convinced Joao, Getz, and Jobim to let Astrid to sing it, and a third story is that Stan Getz himself insisted on Astrid over everybody else's objections.  It is interesting to note that because she was a non-professional and, therefore, not under any contract, Astrid Gilberto was never paid for this recording.  She did not receive one red cent, nor, I guess, was she entitled to any payment.  This recording did launch her successful career as a singer, but still, you'd think she should get something for being the vocalist for one of the most popular songs of all time.

The Getz / Gilberto album released by Verve Records stayed on the pop charts for 96 weeks and won four Grammys.

The very first performance of A Garota de Ipanema (then named Menina que Passa) was on August 12, 1962 at the Au Bon Gourmet restaurant on the Avenida Nossa Senhora in Copacabana and featured Tom Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes, Joao Gilberto, Otavio Bailly, Milton Banana, and the vocal group Os Cariocas.

The Bossa Nova craze that began in the late fifties ended rather quickly in the middle sixties.  In the atmosphere of a military coup in Brazil and the war in Vietnam, its light, lyrical and melodic sounds lost out to hard driving beats and the sounds of protest.  Perhaps the downfall of the Bossa Nova began when it came to the United States.  In the early sixties record companies were looking for the latest dance craze.  The Twist, the Watusi, and other fads were making money for the record industry.  When the Bossa Nova came, the thought was to make it into another dance fad.  So songs like Blame It On The Bossa Nova by Steve Lawrence and Edie Gorme and Bossa Nova Baby by Elvis Presley were produced.  These were not Bossa Nova.  Bossa Nova is a soft sophisticated sound meant for vocal and instrumental interpretations, not for Las Vegas lounge acts.  You listen to the Bossa Nova sound, you don't rock to it on a dance floor.  American commercialism miss-named its songs and in doing so relegated a new Jazz form to realm of the lounge-lizards.  

The Bar Veloso has since changed its name to A Garota de Ipanema.  The name of the North/South street the caf is on has also changed from the Rua Montenegro to the Rua Vinicius de Moraes.  Consequently the bar Garota de Ipanema is on the corner of Rua Vinicius de Moraes and Rua Prudente de Moraes.  Hel's store is to the north, next door on the Rua Vinicius de Moraes. Also, extensive construction on the Rua Prudente de Moraes took place in the seventies and early eighties so you can no longer see the beach from the bar. 

The 1958 album made by Jobim, de Moraes, and Joao Gilberto that launched the Bossa Nova movement was released on the old 78 rpm records.

Tom Jobim's full name is Antnio Carlos Brasileiro de Almeida Jobim. 

Joao Gilberto's full name is Joo Gilberto do Prado Pereira de Oliveira. 

Stan Getz's real name is Stanley Gayetsky. 

Vinicius de Moraes full name is Marcus Vinicius da Cruz de Mello Moraes.

In 1966, Frank Sinatra came up with the idea of recording an album with Tom Jobim.  To get a hold of Jobim to talk about it, the first place he called was the Bar Veloso.  Tom was there.  The result of their collaboration was the 1967 release of Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim. 

Tom Jobim served as best man when Hel married Fernando Pinheiro. 

In 1976, at age 49, Tom Jobim took up with a 19 year old photographer named Ana Beatriz Lontra who he married in 1986.  It has been strongly suggested that Ana, at age 19, looked an awful lot like the young Hel. 

Norman Gimbel (born 1927 in Brooklyn) is a member of the Songwriter's Hall of Fame who has Grammys for the lyrics to The Girl From Ipanema and Roberta Flack's Killing Me Softly.  In 1979 he and David Shire won an Academy Award for Best Song for It Goes Like It Goes from the movie Norma Rae.  He has three songs in the BMI list of Top 100 Songs of the Century, The Girl From Ipanema, Killing Me Softly, and Canadian Sunset.  A very prolific writer, he is responsible for the theme music to many TV shows including Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Wonder Woman, and The Paper Chase.  His movie credits include Norma Rae, Goodfellas, Johnny Dangerously, Crimes of Passion, Meatballs, and Chisum.

It has been said that there are two types of Brazilian music, Before Jobim and After Jobim.  Born on January 25, 1927 Tom Jobim did not start studying music until 1941 and originally went to school to become an architect.  In 1953 his first album was published.  Before he died on December 8, 1994 he had written the songs for 28 individual albums, the scores for eight movies, and a number of single releases that appeared on other albums.  After he died of a heart attack at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, his body was flown back to Rio where it was draped in a Brazilian flag and carried through the streets of Rio.  He is buried in a tomb at the Sao Joao Batista Cemetery near his old friend Vinicius de Moraes. 

Tom Jobim was married twice, Thereza Hermanny in 1949 and Ana Lontra in 1986.  Vinicius de Moraes was officially married nine times.  Once, Jobim asked of his friend, After all, little poet, how many times do you have to be married?  Vinicius answered, As many times as necessary. 

Born October 19, 1913 and died July 9, 1980, Vinicius de Moraes was a man of many interests.  He was a poet, a writer, a lyricist, a musician, a film critic, a career diplomat, and a lawyer who studied English at Oxford University in Cambridge.  As a diplomat he served in France, Uruguay, and the United States.  In the US he was  Consular at the Brazilian Consulate in Los Angeles and while in LA he took the opportunity to study film under the tutelage of Orson Welles.   He too is buried in the Sao Joao Batista Cemetery. 

In 2001, Hel Pinheiro opened her Garota de Ipanema boutique in Sao Paolo catering mostly to women and offering a variety of beachwear.  One of the products she offers is a T-shirt imprinted with the music and lyrics from the song.  Since this is a copy of the original sheet music, it also contains the signatures of Vinicius de Moraes and A. C. Jobim.  The estates of de Moraes and Jobim filed suit arguing that the words and music belong to the estates and that all monies made from the sale of those T-shirts belong to the families of de Moraes and Jobim.  Fortunately for us romantics, the Brazilian courts acted properly.  In February, 2004, the court ruled in favor of Hel Pinheiro stating without her there would not have been the song. 

        -- Mirrored from Stan Shepkowski

Update 2016: The link is now broken and I am glad I mirrored it. I couldn't find another copy on the internet but here is one that comes close and has some more pictures.