Joao Gilberto, Brazilian Musician and Bossa Nova Pioneer, Dead at 88

João Gilberto, the pioneering Brazilian musician and composer credited as “the father of bossa nova,” has died at the age of 88.

Gilberto’s son João Marcelo Gilberto confirmed his father’s death Saturday in Rio de Janeiro in a Facebook post, “His struggle was noble. He tried to maintain his dignity in the light of losing his independence.” No cause of death was provided.

Gilberto is considered the progenitor of bossa nova, or “new beat,” a subgenre of the Brazilian samba that scaled back that style’s percussion and arrangements. According to NPR, Gilberto developed the sound while ensconced in a bathroom at his sister’s house, crafting bossa nova by playing off the bathroom’s tiled acoustics. Soon after in his native Brazil, Gilberto scored a huge hit in 1959 with a cover of “Chega de Saudade.”

Gilberto’s bossa nova began to reach American audiences thanks to its appearance on the soundtrack for the 1959 film Black Orpheus, which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film that year. Stan Getz and guitarist Charlie Byrd’s chart-topping bossa nova-inspired Jazz Samba was released in 1962; the following year, Gilberto moved to the United States and, soon after, the guitarist collaborated with Getz on what would become Gilberto’s most acclaimed and popular album.

Released in 1964, Getz/Gilberto would go on to win Album of the Year at the 1965 Grammys, the first non-English LP and the first jazz LP to capture that award. The multiplatinum-selling album also boasted the Record of the Year-winning hit “The Girl From Ipanema,” a duet between Gilberto and his then-wife Astrud Gilberto. In 2012, the Wall Street Journal called “The Girl From Ipanema” the second-most popular song ever recorded, behind the Beatles’ “Yesterday.”

Getz/Gilberto also placed at Number 447 on Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list.

“His uncanny ability to syncopate his vocal delivery, while keeping a simple groove was his trademark sound. Several others tried to imitate him, with no success,” pianist Jovino Santos Neto told NPR Saturday. “When people started to think that he was a bossa nova singer of Brazilian tunes, he challenged their assumptions by applying his style to boleros, Italian songs, Gershwin and later to the pop music of Brazil.”

In the ensuing decades, Gilberto continued to record and explore the bossa nova genre until the early Nineties, when his output ceased and the guitarist became, according to the Brazilian media, a recluse.

Gilberto’s last studio album João Voz e Violão – produced by Caetano Veloso, one of the many Brazilian artists influenced by Gilberto – was released in 2000; the album won the 2001 Grammy Award for Best World Music Album. Gilberto’s final live performance was a 2008 celebration of the 50th anniversary of bossa nova.

“It was Joao Gilberto, the greatest genius of Brazilian music, who was the definitive influence on my music,” Brazilian singer Gal Costa wrote on social media (via the Associated Press). “He will be missed but his legacy is very important to Brazil and to the world.”

Steven Van Zandt tweeted, “RIP João Gilberto. Godfather of Bossa Nova. His brilliant mix of Samba and Cool Jazz guitar style combined with the writing genius of Antõnio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes would create a new Brazilian musical genre.”

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