NPR logo The Birth of Bossa Nova

The Birth of Bossa Nova

Hear Five Classic Songs Below

Joao Gilberto was one of the key bossa nova pioneers. Hulton Archive/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Joao Gilberto was one of the key bossa nova pioneers.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The summer of 1958 was the season of bossa nova. Fifty years ago, a movement of melody, harmony, lyrics, and rhythm sent a fresh wave of sound throughout Brazil. In the years to follow, a small group of idealistic musicians — including Antonio Carlos Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes, Joao Gilberto, and a handful of others — would write some of the most enduring melodies in music history. Here are five songs from the magical era when the gentle sound of Brazil hypnotized the world.

The Birth of Bossa Nova

The Legendary Joao Gilberto: The Original Bossa Nova Recordings (1958 –1961)

Chega de Saudade

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/91087907/91061926" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Joao Gilberto

  • Song: Chega de Saudade
  • from Legendary João Gilberto

Bossa nova's premier historian, Ruy Castro, calls this song "the 1 minute and 59 seconds that changed everything." It was the first composition to reveal Joao Gilberto's "new beat on guitar," with the sophisticated harmonies of Antonio Carlos Jobim and the elegant lyrics of Vinicius de Moraes. Brazilian music would never be the same.

Buy Featured Music

Song
Legendary João Gilberto
Album
Legendary João Gilberto
Artist
João Gilberto
Label
World Pacific
Released
1958

Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

Getz/Gilberto

Desafinado

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/91087907/91061990" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Stan Getz/Joao Gilberto

  • Song: Desafinado
  • from Getz/Gilberto [Bonus Tracks]

Many historians believe that "Desafinado," co-written by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Newton Mendoca, was the first bossa nova song. It was originally written as a joke for the corny pop singer Ivon Cury, but then Joao Gilberto sang it earnestly, and it became a bossa nova manifesto.

Buy Featured Music

Song
Getz/Gilberto [Bonus Tracks]
Album
Getz/Gilberto [Bonus Tracks]
Artist
Stan Getz/João Gilberto
Label
Impulse!
Released
2008

Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

Cover for Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim

Girl from Ipanema

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/91087907/91061927" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim

  • Song: Girl from Ipanema

"Garota de Ipanema," or "The Girl from Ipanema," is the one bossa nova song everyone knows. Whether it's packaged for concert halls or elevators, every conceivable genre of music has adapted this irrepressible melody from Antonio Carlos Jobim, with lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes. The song would introduce bossa nova to the world, for better and for worse.

Buy Featured Music

Song
Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim
Album
Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim
Artist
Frank Sinatra
Label
Rhino/Ada
Released
1967

Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac by Dizzy Gillespie

Mas Que Nada

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/91087907/91061928" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Dizzy Gillespie

  • Song: Mas Que Nada
  • from Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac

Jorge Ben's "Mas Que Nada" certainly qualifies as a timeless piece. Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66 jump-started their careers with it. Mendes himself revisited the tune with will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas in 2006. In 1967, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie gave a spirited performance on his album Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac. Hear why Gillespie subtitled the tune "Pow, Pow, Pow."

Buy Featured Music

Song
Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac
Album
Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac
Artist
Dizzy Gillespie
Label
GRP
Released
1967

Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

Antonio Carlos Jobim & Elis Regina

Aguas de Marco

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/91087907/91061925" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Antonio Carlos Jobim & Elis Regina

  • Song: Aguas de Marco
  • from Elis & Tom [Bonus CD]

Brazil's most important composer, Antonio Carlos Jobim, showcases his other greatest passion: ecology. Jobim spoke about the dangers of pollution and global warming before they became buzzwords. This minimalist song sounds even more relevant today.

Buy Featured Music

Song
Elis & Tom
Album
Elis & Tom
Artist
Antonio Carlos Jobim
Label
Trama
Released
2004

Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?