And when she passes, each one she passes…

In was in a two-hour Zoom meeting when this came across my screen and all I could think to do was reject what I was seeing:

This is hard to accept. Y’all know what a fan of Astrud I am. It’s not just her voice — although the simple honesty of it when you listen to her first and most famous recording sort of sweeps me away. It’s not entirely her visual allure, although that was pretty overwhelming as well, whether she was dressed in modest mod attire or less formally. I’m glad I didn’t see that picture back in the day. I was just a kid.

Back then, fortunately, I didn’t see a lot of things that the web makes accessible. There was just the wonder of seeing her on the tube, and hearing her. The web complicates things, and often it does so with nonsense and rumor.

I remember reading once, in recent years, that she left her husband João for Stan Getz. I thought that was on Wikipedia, but it’s not there now. Apparently it was something in the Brazilian press, connected to her going on tour with Getz as she was getting divorced from João — something that (as I read elsewhere) was João’s fault, by the way. Trying to check it, I ran across multiple stories about how Getz exploited her, which is just disgusting:

Getz often boasted that “he’d made Astrud famous”, but it seems he did his best to make sure she never received her fair share of the royalties. Gene Lees, the editor of DownBeat magazine, who translated “Corcovado” into English, later alleged that Getz intervened as soon as it was clear “The Girl from Ipanema” was going to be a lucrative hit. “Astrud hadn’t been paid a penny for the session and within days, the record was on the charts,” he wrote in Singers and the Song II. “It was at this point that Getz called Creed’s office. Betsy, Creed’s secretary, took the call. Creed was out of the office. When he returned and she told him Stan was anxious to talk with him, Creed thought Stan must be calling to see that Astrud got some share of the royalties. On the contrary, he was calling to make sure that she got nothing.”

The extent of the financial injustice is also made clear in Ruy Castro’s 2003 book Bossa Nova: The Story of the Brazilian Music That Seduced the World. Castro details that João Gilberto received $23,000 for his work on the album. Getz got the lion’s share of money for the album, estimated by some to be nearly a million dollars. Getz earned so much from its success that he immediately bought a 23-room “Gone With the Wind-style mansion” in Irvington, New York.

As for poor Astrud Gilberto, she was paid a relative pittance for turning millions of people on to jazz and the rhythms of Brazil. The woman “responsible for the record’s international success” (in Castro’s words) earned only what the American musicians’ syndicate paid for a night of session work: $120…

What an a__hole. How could anybody do that to Astrud? I mean, look at her. She was 22 when she recorded that. A babe in the woods. Someone a halfway decent person would want to protect. (See how my perspective shifts over the years from dazzled kid to father of daughters, and then to grandfather?)

Of course, maybe that story was just rumors, too. But I don’t think so.

To pull us all back from my digression — don’t look at her; listen to her. Here are some links. I’ll go away and leave you to contemplate them in peace, and become an Astrud fan. Some people like the piercing artistry of opera divas. I like this:

3 thoughts on “And when she passes, each one she passes…

  1. bud

    With the passing of Gilberto we are yet again mourning the loss of another wonderful female singer from the early-mid 60s. She follows shortly after two other talented ladies from that era – Ronnie Spector and Judith Durham. All 3 were marvelous entertainers in their own unique way.

  2. Bill

    It’s easy to look at her as a victim,but she owed her lucky break to Getz,who worked hard to attain success…
    She took her lucky break and broke it in two.

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