This song was written by two Brazilian composers: Antonio Carlos Jobim, who wrote the music; and Vinicius de Moraes, who wrote the lyrics in Portuguese. English lyrics were later written by their producer, Norman Gimbel.
Jobim and Moraes were inspired by Helo Pinheiro, a young Brazilian girl who wore a bikini and regularly walked "Like a samba" past the "Veloso" bar that they frequented. In a 2008 feature in The Seattle Times, Pinheiro revealed the she would walk by the songwriters on her way to buy cigarettes for her mother. She claims to be the first person on the beach to wear a 2-piece bathing suit. We also learn that she had four children, posed for Brazilian Playboy twice (the second time with her daughter), and opened a boutique in Sao Paulo called "Garota de Ipanema" (Girl from Ipanema).
Ipanema is a fashionable district in Rio de Janeiro. It was a fairly obscure stretch of beach until this song make it famous. The street where the songwriters used to sit and watch the girls go by has been re-named Vinicius de Moraes Street after the lyricist.
Stan Getz recorded the Getz/Gilberto album with João Gilberto, who is considered the father of Bossa Nova. In the studio, they convinced his wife Astrud, who had never sung a recorded note, to sing the English lyrics. The original choice as vocalist was Sarah Vaughan, but when Gilberto heard the English translation, he decided that Astrud should sing it. Her subtle vocal added a nuance to the song that worked surprisingly well with the music.
As well as being one of the most recorded songs of all time, this is probably the most famous Bossa Nova song ever written. Stan Getz' version of this song featuring his tenor saxophone helped popularize the Bossa Nova sound, which is a form of Brazilian music.
This won the 1964 Grammy Award for Record Of The Year. The album won for Best Jazz Performance and Album of the Year.
Many movies have used this song, including The Color Of Money (1986) and Girl, Interrupted (1999).
The song was recorded at A&R Studios in New York City, which was owned by Phil Ramone, who also engineered the session. Ramone carved out a niche recording Bossa Nova; he also did the Quincy Jones album Big Band Bossa Nova. Many of Dionne Warwick's famous songs were also recorded at A&R before Ramone moved on to a new studio in 1969, where his most famous client was Billy Joel.
The smooth jazz saxman Kenny G released a version of this song on his 1999 album Classics in the Key of G. Astrud Gilberto's stepdaughter, Bebel Gilberto, sang the vocal.
Bebel Gilberto recalled in an interview with the Metro newspaper that her father Joao Gilberto, who is credited with inventing Bossa Nova, helped write this: "He (Joao Gilberto) arranged the song, produced it and sang the Bossa Nova part. When it was first played at Carnegie Hall, he was playing and singing with Astrud Gilberto, who is my stepmother and Antonio Carlos Jobim, who played the piano. The truth is that Tom Jobim wrote the song, but he was a really bad singer, so my father helped him."
Co-writer Vinicius de Moraes led a remarkable life. A one-time diplomat, Moraes was first posted to Los Angeles in 1946 as a vice consul before later being sent to Paris and Rome. A free-spirit, he was married nine times and Moraes' overly liberated lifestyle led to Brazil's military dictatorship expelling him from the diplomatic corps in 1969. He died aged 66 in 1980 and in August 2010 the gregarious diplomat and poet was posthumously reinstated to the Foreign Office and given the rank of ambassador.
A version by Amy Winehouse appears on the late singer's posthumous album, Lioness: Hidden Treasures. Recorded in May 2002, it was the first song the 18-year-old Winehouse sang when she first went to Miami to record with Salaam Remi, who went on to work with the singer on her first two albums. Remi remarked during a listening session for the record, that, "the way she re-interpreted this bossa nova classic made me realize that I was dealing with a very special talent. Her approach to the song was so young and fresh, it really inspired the rest of our sessions."
This was used in commercials for Special K cereal.
During the opening ceremony at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, Daniel Jobim, the grandson of the song's composer Antonio Carlos Jobim, performed the song as the 36-year-old Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen made a very long walk across the stadium, portraying the Girl From Ipanema in a gold sequin gown and 5-inch stilettos. Her appearance enthralled the crowd and enraptured the American audience, who also know her as the wife of football hero Tom Brady.
The following day, the song was streamed 40,000 times on Spotify (it was typically streamed 3000 times a day on the service).