João Gilberto, Brazilian Guitarist and “Father of Bossa Nova,” Dead at 88
Brazilian guitarist, vocalist, and bossa nova pioneer João Gilberto has died, BBC reports. The songwriter’s death was confirmed by his son João Marcelo Gilberto, who took to Facebook to share the news. Gilberto passed away at his home in Rio de Janeiro, but his cause of death has not yet been revealed. He was 88 years old.
Born João Gilberto Prado Pereira de Oliveira, the songwriter was raised in Bahia, Brazil. After being given a guitar by his grandfather at age 14, Gilberto performed with local students before moving to Rio de Janeiro in 1950. There, he performed with the vocal quintet Garotos da Lua, before being dismissed from the group for his repeated failure to show up to rehearsals and performances.
Gilberto went on to record his most well-known material as a solo musician. In the mid-1950s, Gilberto established what become known as the bossa nova style of playing, which combined the upbeat Brazilian samba sound with the harmony and melody of American jazz. After a brief stay in a mental hospital in 1955, Gilberto met fellow bossa nova innovator Antônio Carlos Jobim, beginning a lifelong friendship as musical collaborators.
In 1962, Gilberto was invited to perform with saxophonist Stan Getz, and together with Jobim and Gilberto’s then-wife Astrud Gilberto, they recorded Getz/Gilberto. The album won the 1964 Grammy Award for Album of the Year, becoming one of the best-selling jazz records of all time and a definitive album in the bossa nova style. Its song “The Girl from Ipanema” went on to become a jazz standard and one of the best-known pop songs of all time, peaking at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. It is believed to be the second-most-recorded song in history after the Beatles’ “Yesterday,” and has been covered by artists like Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and the Supremes, among others.
The album’s global success would bring Gilberto to the U.S. and Mexico, where he lived throughout the 1960s and ’70s. Throughout this period, he released albums including João Gilberto en México (1970), João Gilberto (1973), and Amoroso (1977) before moving back to Brazil in 1980. Gilberto released numerous live albums throughout the 1980s and ’90s, largely retreating from public life in this period. In 2000, his album João Voz E Violão won the Grammy Award for Best World Music Album.
In a statement on his passing, João Marcelo Gilberto said that his father tried to stay positive amid his declining health. “His fight was noble, he tried to maintain dignity in light of losing his sovereignty,” he wrote on Facebook. In another update, he added that there will be no open casket at his father’s funeral at his request. The songwriter is survived by three children, João Marcelo, Bebel, and Luisa.