By Julia Averbuck, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On August 2, 1962, Tom Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes and João Gilberto came together on stage to release their new set and to play for the first time what would later be known as the hallmark song of the bossa nova music genre: ‘Garota de Ipanema’ (Girl from Ipanema). The year was 1962 and the show took place at a 20-by-130 feet nightclub in Copacabana called Au Bon Gourmet.
For forty nights during six weeks, the Tom-Vinicius-Gilberto trio, for the first and last time together on the same stage, was accompanied by the band Os Cariocas and played a set that included other bossa nova favorites such as ‘Samba do Avião’.
Now, fifty years later, Garota de Ipanema is more popular than Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes could ever have imagined when they first composed it.
Second to The Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’ as the most recorded song ever, Garota de Ipanema has been translated to countless languages and immortalized in its English version by Norman Gimbel and initially interpreted by Gilberto’s wife, Astrud Gilberto.
What fewer people might know however, is that the girl from Ipanema in the song was inspired by a teenager called Heloísa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto.
Helô, as she is known, lived nearby and would walk into Bar Veloso, now renamed Garota de Ipanema, from Ipanema beach to buy cigarettes for her mom. The song-writers were inspired by the beautiful yet unattainable muse.
“Finding out I was the girl from Ipanema changed my life,” Helô told The Rio Times. “I was really naïve and did not realize at the time that this was something that could achieve large proportions and I wondered at first whether I deserved to [have] this title.”
After the shock passed Helô said she realized this was something she could use in her favor, and it to helped launch her career as a businesswoman and television personality. Helô currently owns a bikini boutique called Garota de Ipanema, still on Rua Vinicius de Moraes, and has her own clothing line in São Paulo as well as a talk show entitled De Cara com a Maturidade, on television network Band.
To celebrate the song’s 50th anniversary, Helô claims it is time to share her title with a new girl from Ipanema. As a result, she, along with the mayor’s office in Rio, is organizing a contest to elect the next “Girl from Ipanema”.
The concert and contest will take place on December 8th at Arpoador beach and will be a homage to the song. The contest winner will hold the title of Girl from Ipanema for one year.
In Rio however, the song is also honored in a few other ways. The song title is the name of a park in Arpoador, Parque Garota de Ipanema, which has been the host to the Bourbon Street Fest for the past ten years, and the name of the famous Garota de Ipanema Restaurante.
Originally known as Bar Veloso, where Moraes and Jorbim would watch Helô buy cigarettes, Garota de Ipanema is a thriving establishment on the corner of Rua Vinicius de Moraes and Rua Prudente de Morais.
Still serving their famous picanha and “the coldest beer in all of Ipanema,” according to manager Wílson Soares, Garota de Ipanema preserves the history of the song with its lyrics on the wall as well as indications of where Vinicius and Jobim would sit when they composed each song.
These days, ‘Girl from Ipanema’ has become such a common song, easily found in movie soundtracks and elevators, that it is hard to remember how captivating and original in its melody it was when it first came out. The song’s 50th anniversary is a great opportunity to remember how the song put bossa nova on the international map and how lovely it is on the ears.