RIO DE JANEIRO — “Tall and tan and young and lovely ...” You’ve heard of her. The Girl From Ipanema.
You might have come across the bossa nova classic while on hold on the phone, during a long elevator ride, or in a cafe in Beirut or Bangkok — but you’ve heard it. It’s been recorded by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Amy Winehouse, and survived bad lounge singers and Muzak incarnations to become, according to Performing Songwriter magazine, the second most recorded song in the world.
The quintessential bossa nova tune, inspired by a young woman who passed the songwriters in a beachside bar on her way to the sea, introduced Rio de Janeiro to the world. Now, it’s turning 50, and to its legions of fans, the decades have only heightened its allure as the hymn to passing youth and beauty.
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 wrote the lyrics.
The 1962 show at the club Au Bon Gourmet established bossa nova, wrote Castro in his book about the genre.
The small club sold out every night as patrons realized something extraordinary was happening.
Astrud Gilberto, Joao Gilberto’s then-wife, sang the English words in the album “Getz/Gilberto.” It was her first professional gig.
The 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: Heloisa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto, then 17 years old, known among her friends as Helo.
Helo had no idea. When she first heard the hit on the radio, she liked it. But she never suspected she’d inspired the lyrics. Finally, in 1965, Moraes offered the definitive proof, writing in a magazine that Helo was the beauty behind the song.
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.
Her fiance, pushed for a quick wedding, and she spent the next decade as a housewife. Now, at 68, she’s far more comfortable with her notoriety.
“Back then, I never thought I’d get old,” she said. “But youth passes. We have to live each moment.”