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The Mystery Behind the Girl from Ipanema

Picture of Sarah Brown
Updated: 9 May 2018
“The Girl from Ipanema” is one of the most famous songs from Brazil, capturing an innocent crush on a local Carioca girl. The song was written by Antônio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes in 1962, with Jobim behind the music and Moraes wistfully coining the lyrics. But these lyrics weren’t the result of a strong imagination – the girl from Ipanema really does exist.

“The Girl from Ipanema” is a Brazilian bossa nova jazz song that was written in 1962 by Jobim and Moraes. The first recording came in 1962 by Pery Ribeiro, but it only became a worldwide hit in 1964 with a version recorded by Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz, and in 1965 it won the Grammy for Record of the Year. It is the second most covered song in pop – missing out only to “Yesterday” by The Beatles – with versions recorded by the likes of Amy Winehouse and Ella Fitzgerald. Jobim and Moraes were already creating successful music in the early ’60s, yet it was this song that elevated their presence and made them globally-known artists.

The inspiration for the song came while the two songwriters were sat in a café-bar called Veloso in Ipanema in the early ’60s. Every day they would see a beautiful young girl walk by while out shopping or on her way to the beach. The two men were enchanted by her beauty and used their crush on this local girl as a source of inspiration for their new song. The song was originally composed for a musical comedy written by Moraes and had the name “Menina due Passa,” or “The Girl Who Passes By.” It was later rewritten to the version that is known today.

The first verse of the song is:

“Tall and tan and young and lovely
The girl from Ipanema goes walking and
When she passes, each one she passes goes, ‘ah'”

So who was the girl that inspired such beautiful lyrics? She was Heloísa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto (now Heloísa Pinheiro) who was just 17 years old at the time. She lived in Ipanema and would go out shopping or to the beach, often accompanied by wolf-whistles from locals. Morales later wrote a book called Revelação: a verdadeira Garota de Ipanema – Revealed: The Real Girl from Ipanema – where he describes Pinheiro and the effect she unintentionally had on him and Jobim. He says she is the true paradigm of a Carioca girl, “the golden girl, mixed with flower and mermaid, full of light and grace but whose vision is also sad, because she carries with her, on the way to the sea, the feeling of what passes, of beauty that is not only ours – it is a gift of life in its beautiful and melancholy and steady flow.”

This song propelled Pinheiro into the spotlight where she became a successful model, including modeling as a Playboy Playmate in 1987 and again in 2003 when aged 58. “The Girl from Ipanema” was also used during the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympics in Rio, which consequently led to the song being streamed on Spotify an incredible 40,000 times a day seeing it once again entering the Billboard charts in the U.S.