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The Bossa Nova Classic That Charted To #5 In America

(The Story Behind "The Girl From Ipanema")

by John Timmons

Even as a teenager, I knew there was something very different about the pop hit that soared to #5 on the Billboard Charts in 1964, "The Girl From Ipanema". Today I am of the opinion that this bossa nova classic was indeed an anomaly, and a great one, at that, in the world of 60's pop music. The record has certainly made a name for itself and holds a distinctive place in 1960's pop music history unlike most others. Besides its huge popularity in the U.S. and around the world, the record won a Grammy for Record of the Year in 1965 and in 2004 was one of just 50 recordings chosen that year by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry. In addition, the hit song with its blend of samba and jazz, lilting rhythms, and unusual harmonies, helped spark the bossa nova craze of the 1960's. A Brazilian musical film, "Garota de Ipanema", inspired by the song, was released in 1967.

Over the years there has been a mystic and something almost mysterious surrounding this very popular hit, perhaps in part, to it's unusual origins in Brazil. Most 60's music listeners know that "The Girl From Ipanema" was performed by Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto and perhaps was recorded somewhere in South America, but beyond that, know very little. Well, here is the story behind the hit record plus the song's on-going influence 44 years later.

The song was originally composed for a musical comedy by lyricist Vinicius de Moraes and musician Antonio Carlos Jobim in 1962. The song's initial title was "The Girl Who Passes By", inspired by a fifteen-year-old girl living in the fashionable Ipanema district of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Each day the two musically talented friends would sit and watch from the Veloso Bar as the 5' 8", gimlet-eyed brunette, would enter the bar to buy cigarettes for her mother. Moraes and Jobim were not the only two watching the exceedingly attractive young lady, as she was already the object of desire for many other Veloso patrons. The girl's name was Heloisa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto, now simply known as Helo Pinheiro. Today, the green-eyed blonde with a deep tan is 61 or 62, but continues to turn heads, having the looks of a Swedish model or movie star. As Jobim is said to have once stated, "She was a creature of God". Having such great beauty, it is no wonder that Jobim even wrote the text that accompanied nude photos of her that Brazilian Playboy ran in 1987 under the title "The Girl From Ipanema".

Now, thats brings us to 2008. Helo Pinheiro has never made a single centavo off the song, though she was the muse behind it. As Pinheiro recently said, "If I hadn't inspired the song, it wouldn't have been written". The record has made it's mark in Rio where the Veloso Bar was renamed The Girl From Ipanema as well as a city park in the Arpoador neighborhood. Pinheiro, who moved to Sao Paulo some time ago, recently opened a dress shop in a mall there called "The Girl From Ipanema". And thats where trouble is brewing, 44 years after the release of the popular record. According to Pinheiros attorney, a lawsuit has been filed accusing her of "unjustly profiting from the image and the work of the late composers", Moraes and Jobim. "She doesn't have the legitimacy to use, at her pleasure, the work and images of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes as she has been doing". The suit cites a popular T-shirt featuring a picture of Pinheiro with the song's lyrics written out in the background at her clothing store.

Where will this legal controversey end for the muse from the Ipanema neighborhood of Rio.....well, who knows? The mystic lives on for the "tall and tan and young and lovely, The girl from Ipanema goes walking, And when she each one passes goes "a-a-ah". At least most do, just not a certain Brazilian attorney. For now, something to ponder the next time you hear this bossa nova classic that made pop music history in America.

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