Astrud Gilberto, a Brazilian singer whose impromptu cameo performing lyrics in English on “The Girl From Ipanema” catapulted her to global fame and defined the whisper-smooth mellowness of the bossa nova sound in the 1960s, died June 5 at her home in Philadelphia. She was 83.
Her son Gregory Lasorsa confirmed the death but did not provide a cause.
Ms. Gilberto’s style — breathy tones and gentle phrasing that fell like a soft rain — was perfectly suited for the cool sophistication of bossa nova, literally meaning new wave, which fused American jazz and Brazil’s traditional samba music. She never described the “The Girl From Ipanema” as her favorite song, but said she was happy it gave the world a “dreamy distraction.”
She released more than 15 albums and compilations over four decades, with much of her work packed into the years after the release of “The Girl From Ipanema,” first on a 1964 album and later as a single. Her part in the recording has become a fixture of music industry lore.
Her then-husband, bossa nova guitarist and singer João Gilberto, was working with American jazz saxophonist Stan Getz on a version of “The Girl From Ipanema.” The song, written by Antônio Carlos Jobim with Portuguese lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes, was a wistful ode to a young woman the songwriters often saw strolling by the Veloso bar in Rio de Janeiro’s beachfront Ipanema neighborhood. The Portuguese-language release was already a hit in Brazil and other parts of South America when Getz and Gilberto went into the studio.
The producer working on the “Getz/Gilberto” album, Creed Taylor, suggested adding some verses in English to broaden the song’s international appeal. Ms. Gilberto knew enough English and was invited to the recording studio.
“As they were in the midst of going over the song ‘The Girl From Ipanema,’ João casually asked me to join in, and sing a chorus in English, after he had just sung the first chorus in Portuguese,” Ms. Gilberto said in a 2002 interview posted on her website. “So, I did just that.”
Getz was happy. The next day, they laid down the track. Ms. Gilberto’s husband sang the Portuguese. Then she came in with a section that would become part of the 1960s canon: Tall and tan and young and lovely/ The girl from Ipanema goes walking/And when she passes/Each one she passes goes “Ah.”
The song on the album was 5 minutes, 15 seconds — too long for AM radio play at the time. Taylor edited out the Portuguese lyrics, bringing the song down to 3:55, and it was released as a single. The song peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in July 1964, won a Grammy Award in 1965 as record of the year and eventually sold more than 5 million copies worldwide. (“Getz/Gilberto” won the album of the year Grammy in 1965.)
But Ms. Gilberto’s initial payment was just $120: the going rate at the time for a studio gig. She received no credit on the initial release of the “Getz/Gilberto” album, leaving her out of the loop for royalties on the LP. (She did received credit and payment for the single.)
Ms. Gilberto always reacted harshly to accounts that suggested her career had more to do with luck — the chance collaboration on “The Girl From Ipanema” — than talent. “Nothing is further from the truth,” she said in the 2002 interview. “I guess it [makes] them look ‘important’ to have been the one that had the ‘wisdom’ to recognize talent or ‘potential’ in my singing.”
The stardom of “Ipanema,” however, was never repeated. Her first solo album of bossa nova tracks, “The Astrud Gilberto Album” (1965), failed to crack the top 40 in sales. Her 1969 album “I Haven’t Got Anything Better to Do” featured a close-up shot of Ms. Gilberto with a tear in her left eye. One reviewer said she maintained a “voice as smooth as butterscotch,” but the public’s interest in bossa nova was on the wane.
Furthermore, her relationship with her homeland never fully healed after she left for the United States in the mid-1960s. She said the Brazilian media pried into her personal life too much, including a reported relationship with Getz in the 1960s, and was unforgiving of her decision to emigrate. Her last performance in Brazil was in 1965 at the height of her fame.
“Isn’t there an ancient proverb to the effect that ‘No one is a prophet in his own land?’” she said in 2002.
She added: “I have no qualms with Brazilians, and I enjoy myself very much when I go to Brazil. Of course, I go there as an incognito visitor, and not as a performer.”
Named for Norse goddess
Astrud Evangelina Weinert was born in Salvador, in northeastern Brazil’s Bahia state, on March 29, 1940. Her mother, who was Brazilian, was a singer, and her German-born father taught languages and literature. Ms. Gilberto and her sisters, Eda and Iduna, were named for ancient Norse goddesses.
At 8, she moved with her family to Rio, where she attended the Colégio de Aplicação and began singing in local clubs. Her future husband was among the musicians leading the bossa nova movement, using a style known as violão gago, or stammering guitar.
“Joao Gilberto and I used to sing duets,” Ms. Gilberto recalled in 2002, “or he would accompany me on guitar. Friends would always request that I sing at these gatherings, as well as at our own home when they would come to visit us.”
As their marriage came apart in the 1960s, she moved to the United States and toured with Getz and, according to reports, struck up a romantic relationship. Film producers also wanted some of her popularity. She appeared in “Get Yourself a College Girl” (1964) and in the TV movie “The Hanged Man” the same year.
She left the band — and Getz — and began work on her albums, which included two released in 1966, “Look to the Rainbow” and “A Certain Smile, a Certain Sadness.” She also worked with producers including Quincy Jones on “Who Needs Forever” for the soundtrack to the 1967 thriller “The Deadly Affair.”
She recorded a disco version of “The Girl From Ipanema” on a 1977 album, “That Girl From Ipanema.” That same year, she joined with one of her idols, jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, on the song “Far Away” and called it “a dream come true, the highlight of my career.” On TV ads, she pitched Eastern Airlines.
In the early 1980s, she formed a group with her son Marcelo Gilberto, a bass player, and toured North America, Europe and Asia. Her other son, Gregory Lasorsa, played guitar on the song “Beautiful You” on her 1997 album “Temperance.” In 1996, she performed a duet with singer George Michael on the bossa nova classic “Desafinado” for “Red Hot + Rio,” a charity album.
The same year, she recorded a duet with French pop star Étienne Daho, “Les Bords de Seine,” on his “Eden” album. In 2002, she was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame. She “sounded like a child of nature,” wrote James Gavin, a music journalist and author, “vulnerable yet unworldly.”
Ms. Gilberto stepped away from performing in 2002, taking on causes including animal rights and concentrating on visuals arts. She stayed mostly out of the public eye and rarely gave interviews.
Her marriages to João Gilberto and Nicholas Lasorsa ended in divorce. Survivors include her two sons, Marcelo from her first marriage and Gregory from her second; and two granddaughters.
When Rio hosted the 2016 Olympic Games, Ms. Gilberto turned down an invitation to attend the Opening Ceremonies. “The Girl From Ipanema” was performed in Portuguese as supermodel Gisele Bündchen strode down the runway. Many people in the stadium sang along.