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The Girl From Ipanema

Helô Pinheiro would walk past the Veloso bar on the beachfront of Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro, every day. She was “tall and tanned and young and lovely” – and she was regaled by the men who drank there.

Summer 1962. Rio de Janeiro. At the Veloso Bar, a block from the beach at Ipanema, two friends—the composer Antonio Carlos Jobim and the poet Vinícius de Moraes—are drinking Brahma beer and musing about their latest song collaboration.

The duo favour the place for the good brew and the even better girl-watching opportunities. Though both are married men, they’re not above a little ogling. Especially when it comes to a neighborhood girl nicknamed Helô. Seventeen-year-old Helôisa Eneida Menezes Pais Pinto is a Carioca—a native of Rio. She’s tall and tan, with emerald green eyes and long, dark wavy hair. They’ve seen her passing by, as she’s heading to the beach or coming home from school. She has a way of walking that de Moraes calls “sheer poetry.”

“When they saw me, they would whistle and shout out, ‘Hey beautiful girl! Come over here,'” says Helô, the girl from Ipanema who inspired the song of the same name. “I did not know who they were until years later.” The barflies she ignored were the composer Tom Jobim and the poet Vinícius de Moraes, who turned desire and frustration into a track that is now second only to the Beatles’ Yesterday, as the most recorded song in the world, a sultry hymn to unrequited lust that launched the bossa nova rhythm across the world.

And everyone was asking: “Who’s that girl?” When the composers revealed their inspiration, Helô, as she is known in Brazil, was astonished. “I told them, ‘I don’t believe you. You are crazy. There are so many beautiful women here.’ But it was me. The song says tall. I am tall. And tanned – I had brown skin from the sun. And young – I was at this time. And I didn’t see them. It was true.”

Helô became friends with poet De Moraes, who she calls “a dreamer, a charmer who married nine times, who was so clever he became a diplomat”. And Jobim? He proposed to her. “Tom was different,” she says. “He was shy, he was beautiful, a maestro on the piano. But the two of them drank too much. They were always at the bar drinking whisky, caipirinha, beer.” She chose, instead, a steady life with an engineer; they are still married. Jobim, she says, never got over her. “One time, he went to Vinícius’s home and told him he only married his wife because she looked like me. He said that in front of her. He was crazy.”

Since then, the story of The Girl from Ipanema has morphed into something more akin to a Brazilian soap opera or courtroom drama. In 2001 – years after Jobim and De Moraes had died – their families filed a lawsuit against Helô for using the name Garota de Ipanema for a boutique she opened. “I cried so much, I suffered so much,” says Helô, who now lives in São Paulo where she works as a TV presenter, having trained as a lawyer and a journalist. “I tried, but they don’t want to speak to me. This situation is so bad.” The court ruled in her favour.

The song has been covered by everyone from Frank Sinatra (her favourite) to Ella Fitzgerald, from Amy Winehouse to Spike Milligan.

Heloísa, the girl who inspired the song, in the 1960s. JOHN MAIER, JR. / THE IMAGE WORKS.

Heloísa, the girl who inspired the song, in the 1960s. JOHN MAIER, JR. / THE IMAGE WORKS.

Helô Pinheiro.

Helô Pinheiro.

Before 1962, nobody gave much thought to South America at all; it probably didn’t range much beyond banana republics, fugitive Nazis and Carmen Miranda. That changed 54 years ago when a tall and tan and young and lovely goddess was born.

Like a handful of other international crossover hits, “The Girl From Ipanema” pretty much put an entire country’s music and ethos on the map. In this case, the land was Brazil, the genre was bossa nova, and the atmosphere was uniquely exotic and elusive—a seductive tropical cocktail “just like a samba that swings so cool and sways so gently,” as the lyrics go.

At the time, bossa nova wasn’t exactly unknown in the U.S., as shown by the Grammy-winning success of “Desafinado” from the 1962 album “Jazz Samba” by Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd. But “The Girl From Ipanema” (“Garota de Ipanema” in the original Portuguese) was something else altogether. Not only was it one of the last great gasps of pre-Beatles easy listening, it was an entire culture in miniature.

“To the layperson, ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ sounds like ‘a nice song,’ ” says the Brazilian-American guitarist and musical director Manny Moreira.”But to the trained ear it is perfection.”

In the half-century since its genesis, “The Girl From Ipanema” has become inescapable. According to Performing Songwriter magazine, it is the second-most-recorded pop tune ever, surpassed only by “Yesterday.” Sammy Davis Jr. sang it on “I Dream of Jeannie”; it is part of the repertoire of the Yale Whiffenpoofs.

And, yes, it has become archetypal Muzak. Get put on hold often enough, wander through enough retail stores or cocktail lounges, and sooner or later its limpid strains will caress you. At the climax of the 1980 movie “The Blues Brothers,” hundreds of gun-toting police officers, state troopers and other riotous authority figures scramble after John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as they calmly ride a Chicago City Hall elevator while being soothed by a piped-in instrumental version.

Clearly, this is art for the ages. But why?

One reason is the girl of the title. The embodiment of sultry pulchritude, she is also utterly unobtainable: “But each day when she walks to the sea/She looks straight ahead, not at me.”

“It’s the oldest story in the world,” says Norman Gimbel, who wrote the English lyrics. “The beautiful girl goes by, and men pop out of manholes and fall out of trees and are whistling and going nuts, and she just keeps going by. That’s universal.”

So reasoned composer Antônio Carlos Jobim and poet Vinícius de Moraes, over five decades ago. Stalled on a number for a musical called “Blimp,” they sought inspiration at the Veloso, the seaside cafe in the Ipanema neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro. There they remembered a local teenager, the 5-foot-8-inch, dark-haired, green-eyed Heloísa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto, whom they often saw walking to the beach or entering the bar to buy cigarettes for her mother. And so they penned a paean to a vision.

To its legions of fans, the decades have only heightened the allure of the quintessential song. This girl who ‘swings so cool and sways so gently’ first stepped out in public on August 1962, in a cramped Copacabana nightclub.

On stage together, for the first and only time, were the architects of bossa nova: 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.

Bossa nova was still young then, somewhat of a novelty even in Rio. The name meant ‘new trend’ or ‘new way,’ and that’s what it was: a fresh, jazzy take on Brazil’s holiest tradition, the samba.

The rhythm was the same. But where samba was cathartic, communal, built on drums and powerful voices, bossa was intimate, contemplative, just a singer and a song. The melody, on guitar or piano, stepped up to the front. Percussion receded, played sometimes with brushes for a softer texture reminiscent of surf washing on the sand.

The 1962 show at the club Au Bon Gourmet established bossa nova, wrote Castro in his book about the genre. It didn’t just introduce the Jobim-penned ‘Girl’; other bossa classics, such as ‘So danco samba’ and ‘Samba da bencao,’ also were played publicly for the first time.

The small club – 20 by 130 feet – sold out every night as patrons realized something extraordinary was happening on the cramped little stage.

Severino Filho was there when it happened. As an original member of Os Cariocas, he was one of the first to ever hear the song.

‘Tom and Vinicius had just composed it; it was still on a scrap of paper. Only later did they write it out on a clean sheet,’ he said. ‘At first, people in the audience just listened. But they’d come back, and would start to sing along. After that, bossa nova just exploded.’

'A sacred music for many Brazilians' … bossa nova originators Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes giving a radio interview in Rio de Janeiro in 1967. Bossa nova is not just elevator music or the rhythm button on a home organ. It's poetic, political – and a high-water mark in Brazilian culture. Photograph: Globo/Globo via Getty Images.

‘A sacred music for many Brazilians’ … bossa nova originators Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes giving a radio interview in Rio de Janeiro in 1967. Bossa nova is not just elevator music or the rhythm button on a home organ. It’s poetic, political – and a high-water mark in Brazilian culture. Photograph: Globo/Globo via Getty Images.

Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Astrud Gilberto.

Astrud Gilberto.

The ‘Getz/Gilberto’ album eventually won the 1965 Grammy for best album of the year, and suddenly, everyone was talking about ‘The Girl.’

Except the girl herself. Because there was a girl: Helôisa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto, then 17 years old, known among her friends as Helô.

Heloísa 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 Helô 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.

The teenager’s days were spent between home, school and the beach, a path that often took her by the bar where de Moraes and Jobim spent long hours nursing their drinks. Their eyes would follow Helô when she passed, entranced with her glowing skin and long dark hair.

Helô  had no idea. When she first heard the hit on the radio, she liked it. She’d whistle it sometimes. But she never suspected she’d inspired the lyrics.

There were rumours from the guys at the bar, but she wouldn’t believe them. Finally, in 1965, Moraes offered the definitive 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.’

In spite of the stir she created, Helo had a traditional upbringing, and the song did little to change that, she said. Between her strict parents and her fiance, then husband, she turned down invitations to do films and shows on TV.

‘I was flattered, of course. But it left me wondering, do I really deserve all this?’ she said. ‘It was a weight, trying to please everyone, to show these characteristics that the song called for.’

Although Helô became an overnight sensation, Brazil was a very conservative country at the time and she did not take advantage of the modeling contracts and movie roles she was offered, opting instead to become a mother and housewife, marrying Fernando Pinheiro the following year.

That might have been the last the world would have heard of Helô Pinheiro, but in the late 70s Pinhero’s companies fell on hard times and Helô gave birth to a handicapped son. Although reluctant to do so her entire life, faced with the situation she was in, Helô decided to capitalize on her identity as “the girl from Ipanema” and became a successful model, gossip columnist and television host. She endorsed over 100 products.“You move mountains, when it comes to providing for your children” she said.

In 2003, at the age of 58 and still quite lovely, Helô Pinheiro appeared with her own daughter, supermodel, actress and reality TV star, Ticiane Pinheiro in the pages of Playboy magazine, making her their oldest model, ever. She now owns a line of swimwear and boutiques under the “Garota de Ipanema” name.

‘Back then, I never thought I’d get old,’ she said. ‘But youth passes. We have to live each moment.’  Now, at 72, she’s far more comfortable with her notoriety.

Tall and tan and young and lovely and emerald-eyed and wavy-haired, the girl from Ipanema came walking past the Veloso bar every day, and the patrons sighed. And sometimes she even came into the bar and, when she exited, she was swinging so cool and swaying so gentle that the barflies would wolf-whistle …but it sounds better if you say they were “Ah”-ing and “Oh”-ing. The paradigm of the young Carioca,” as Vinícius de Moraes would later write of her.


But I watch her so sadly
Can I tell her I love her?
I would give my heart gladly
But each day when she walks to the sea
She looks straight ahead, not at me…

Which is pretty much what she did that day. You say Helô, she says goodbye.

Contrary to legend, Jobim and Moraes didn’t write the whole thing in the bar. That would have been too neat, even for an and-then-I-wrote anecdote. But they jotted down the gist of the music and text on two napkins – and then they parted and returned to their respective pads and put their respective napkins through some rewriting and polishing. And the girl from Ipanema started walking and never looked back. It’s the oldest story in the world.

Over fifty years on, “The Girl From Ipanema” is surely the world’s most sung pedestrian, yet is anything but a pedestrian song. It wasn’t merely a hit, it wasn’t just a smash, it was a phenomenon that spawned an industry. Today the Veloso bar is the Girl From Ipanema bar, not to be confused with the Girl From Ipanema boutique, owned by Helô, who’s not so young but is still tall and tan and lovely. A few years back she posed for Playboy – with her daughter, who went on to marry the guy who hosts the Brazilian version of “The Apprentice.”

The street she once lived on, the Rua Montenegro, now bears the name of “The Girl”‘s lyricist, the Rua Vinícius de Moraes. A giant facsimile of his original napkin bearing his original lyrics for “Garota de Ipanema” looms over the bar. Moraes and Jobim’s most famous song singlehandedly created a global market for “bossa nova”, which means no more or less than a “new beat”. The beat was new, and had an interesting effect.

The first recording of “Garota de Ipanema” was by Pery Ribeiro. But the global breakthrough came courtesy of a record by the American tenor saxophonist Stan Getz. There are plenty of authentic Brazilians on the track, including Antonio Carlos Jobim himself playing the piano and the great João Gilberto on guitar – and singing, in Portuguese:

Olha que coisa mais linda
Mais cheia de graça
É ela menina
Que vem e que passa
Num doce balanço
A caminho do mar…

Toward the end of the session the producer Creed Taylor figured it might be smart to have the record include a chorus sung in English. Easier said than done.


The only guy in the room who spoke English (Stan Getz) didn’t sing. And the only guys who sang (Gilberto, Jobim) didn’t speak English. So someone suggested Gilberto’s wife Astrud, who’d strung along with her hubby on his trip to America and was sitting in the control room waiting to go shopping and sightseeing. Gilberto and Jobim objected strenuously on the grounds that she wasn’t a singer and had never made a record. But Astrud understood just enough English to know what the words meant, and, being a game gal, agreed to give it a go:

Tall and tan and young and lovely

The Girl From Ipanema goes walking
And when she passes
Each one she passes
Goes ‘Ahhhhhh…’

It was a brilliant notion. Mrs Gilberto’s artless singing (no sustaining, no vibrato, no phrasing, no chantoosie technique at all) did more for the song than Billie or Ella – or Petula or Dionne – could ever have done: It’s romantic but foreign; alluring and sensual, and yet distant and detached. Compared to how a great female vocalist would do it, the breathy, childlike Astrud is affectless – but in a sexy way. In other words, she is the Girl from Ipanema, as foreign and remote, as desirable and unattainable. She’s vital to that record. Without it, a global hit would have been just another in-crowd West Coast jazz track.

As an amateur being given her first shot at studio singing, Astrud Gilberto was paid for her bazillion-selling vocal precisely zero dollars and zero cents – and that was just the way Stan Getz liked it. A few weeks later Creed Taylor returned from lunch to his office at Verve Records. His secretary Betsy told him that Stan Getz had called and urgently needed to talk to him. This was a few days after “Ipanema” had entered the charts. Creed assumed Stan was calling to make sure that Astrud got her fair share of the royalties. In fact, Stan was calling to make sure she got none.

Funny. But that was Stan Getz. When a rumour spread that he’d had heart surgery, Bob Brookmeyer said, “Did they put one in?”

Many years on, the Getz/Gilberto “Girl” remains an iconic record, one of those magical moments on which everything comes together – although back in Brazil some of the bossa boys thought Stan and his guys sounded a little square. But without Getz and “The Girl” I doubt bossa nova would have achieved mass appeal in the early Sixties. “Corcovado” and “Desafinado” are superb but feel somehow a little too special for the anglo pop trade without the wind of Ipanema beneath their wings. It was the perfect tune, and the perfect subject for it: a melody that wafts and a lady that sways to it.

That said, Mrs Gilberto’s approach to the text was somewhat idiosyncratic:


But he watch her so sadly
Can he tell her he loves her?
He would give his heart gladly,
But each day when she walks to the sea
She looks straight ahead, not at he…

Presumably that’s the singer’s hasty but inventive solution to the problem of the final word: “She looks straight ahead, not at me” doesn’t work because Astrud Gilberto has third-personed the song, and “She looks straight ahead, not at him” doesn’t work because it doesn’t rhyme. Whatever the reasoning, it drove Norman Gimbel, author of the English lyric, nuts. “I was tearing my hair out,” he said. “It upset me no end.”


And although the writers and their estates have made millions in royalties from the song, Helô never made a penny from it.

In 2001, Helô opened the Girl From Ipanema clothing boutique in a Rio shopping center.

Shortly after, the heirs of Jobim (who died in 1994) and de Moraes (who died in 1980) filed a lawsuit, against Helô.

They claimed that they have exclusive right to the words ”the girl from Ipanema,” and the heirs filed a lawsuit demanding that Ms. Pinheiro change the name of The Girl From Ipanema boutique that she recently opened in a shopping center. They wanted her to remove photographs from the store that show her with the composers.

And they asked a judge to force her to pay a fine, every morning, until she complies.

In a letter they made public, the heirs argue that Ms. Pinheiro’s role in inspiring the song ”does not guarantee her the right to use the images and the work of Antônio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes for commercial purposes.”

As they saw it, ”Helô Pinheiro, besides not having written the song,” was only inadvertently involved in its creation, ”and as a result of that fortunate coincidence has had her life improved.”

That may be so — for the heirs and relatives of the composers. But public opinion clearly sided with Ms. Pinheiro.

The Ipanema merchants’ association sponsored a tribute, not only awarding her a certificate proclaiming her ”the eternal ambassador of Ipanema” but also blocking off the street she made famous ”each day as she walked to the sea” with the ”sweet sway” that first impressed Mr. Jobim and Mr. de Moraes.

As part of the ceremonies, Ms. Pinheiro also sauntered down a red carpet as a band played the song she inspired and admirers kissed her and showered her with flowers.

Her stroll took her past the bar where legend says the song was written, which today is called The Girl From Ipanema and has the sheet music to the song painted on a wall with no objection from the composers’ families.

”This is an act of pettiness that shocks and offends the entire community of Ipanema,” Carlos Monjardim, president of the association and organizer of the event, said of the heirs’ demand. ”What Pelé is to all of Brazil, Helô is for Ipanema: the greatest living symbol of the neighborhood and a symbol of the beauty of the Brazilian woman.’’

Mr. Monjardim said the merchants’ group, which has 4,227 members, feared that the complaint filed against Ms. Pinheiro might be the prelude to future efforts by the Jobim and de Moraes families to block other uses of Ipanema’s name. For that reason, he said, it is important to take a firm stand now. ”They have every right to control the song, but they can’t lay claim to the symbols that inspired it or the neighbourhood itself,” he said. ”We can’t permit such a thing. This is not, after all, some sort of hereditary colony.”

Helô, takes a slightly different view. ”Tom used to say to me that ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ was the goose that laid the golden egg,” Ms. Pinheiro said. ”But I never made a cent from any of that, nor do I claim that I should. Yet now that I’m using a legally registered trademark, they want to prohibit me from being the girl from Ipanema, which is really going too far. I’m sure that Antonio and Vinícius would never question the use of the name.”

It was not until 1965 that Mr. de Moraes, tired of hearing other young women claim to have inspired the song, publicly identified Ms. Pinheiro as his muse and praised her in a magazine interview as ”a golden girl, a mixture of flower and siren, full of light and grace.”

Asked why she thought the composers’ heirs had taken her to court, Helô replied that ”I think they are jealous of the love that Tom and Vinicius always felt for me.”

In 1965, Mr. Jobim, who was married at the time and would be best man at Helô’s own wedding, sought her out, ”declared himself in love and said he wanted to marry her.”

After much ugliness in and out of court, Helô was able to keep the name for her boutique.

Hero still claims to love the song and said, ‘It’s eternal. Whenever I listen, I remember my past, my younger days. Ipanema in 1962 was a great place. You never saw aggression. Everyone wanted to fall in love. It was the spirit of bossa nova – tranquil and romantic. Today, you don’t see composers in the bars and restaurants. There isn’t the same inspiration.

The song follows her everywhere, but she does not mind being trailed by the ghost of her past. While travelling with her family, she heard it being played in a London pub where she was having lunch. Did she tell anyone she was the muse? “No,” she says. “I stayed quiet, eating my fish and chips.”

By the late Sixties Sinatra seemed to be running out of things to move on to. He had always sung both standards and new songs. But he didn’t seem to connect with the latest sounds. What to do? Where to go? He found the answer – and a new collaborator – not in New York or Hollywood or Vegas, but in Rio de Janeiro

 Sinatra was late getting to “The Girl From Ipanema” and by 1967 it could easily have been just another shrugged-off cover tune – one of those songs everyone sang, so why not? Once Frank had warmed to the idea, he really warmed to it. As Will Friedwald put it, if he was too late to be the guy who did the first bossa nova, then he’d be the guy who did the most bossa novas. A whole album of them.

‘What is Bossa Nova?’ — Variations on a Theme by One of the Genre’s Cultural Icons

Helô Pinheiro: the woman from Ipanema | Music | The Guardian

Meeting the real Girl from Ipanema – BBC News

Heloísa Pinheiro

The Elusive Girl From Ipanema – WSJ

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