To a Brazilian mother and German father, Astrud Gilberto was born in Bahia, still Brazil's most Africanized state. With her two sisters she grew up in Rio de Janeiro, where she met and married singer-guitarist-songwriter João Gilberto, one of bossa-nova's originating stylists. In the early 1960s, when that Brazilian music, with its cooling melodies and hot, hip style emigrated from Rio to the rest of the world, your heart and all the rest of you opened to its sound. Your whole body pulsed to its stretchable Africa-based beat.
There had been Jazz vocalists before Astrud Gilberto whose singing suggested and evoked a feeling of innocence, shyness, coyness, even vulnerability. Peggy Lee, Blossom Dearie, Jeri Southern, and Bob Dourough float to mind. Dave Frishberg and the feisty, flirtatious René Marie also project an audible naiveté that charms and disarms. Although each of these singers, on first hearing, may sound “natural” or “untrained,” the truth is that each has made “artlessness” into an art.
Among master deliverers of the casual-sounding, off-handed vocal, Astrud Gilberto stands out. Her crisp Brazilian accent flavors every English vowel and consonant she utters. The lyrics to all the songs she has performed and recorded during her long career suggest her own sentiments and philosophy. An ardent advocate of animal rights and world peace, Gilberto composes and arranges some of the music she performs nowadays. Decades ago, if she picked Benny Carter and Sammy Chan’s “Only Trust Your Heart,” or Burton Lane and Yip Harburg’s “Look to the Rainbow,” she might have been letting her listeners know what mattered to her.
Love has been key. Indeed, love is Gilberto’s favorite, if not her only subject. Sensually and philosophically, the song lyrics she favors give her plenty of room to flirt, sigh, whisper, pout, hug, kiss, caress, question, care, and conquer.
The voice of Astrud Gilberto - guileless, believable, never cold-bloodedly professional - sometimes becomes a French horn, sometimes a tenderly bowed cello, and other times a clarinet or a breathy bamboo flute. Sometimes it even takes on the tremulous quiver of a tenor saxophone. But whether it finds itself swimming in a pond or an ocean - with intimate trio or quintet, or in full orchestral setting - Gilberto's voice, presumed to be delicate but buoyed by love, always swims home to the heart”.
- Al Young *; excerpted from the liner notes of the Verve released compilation titled “Astrud for Lovers” (2004).
* Al Young’s books include the novels Sitting Pretty and Who is Angelina? Mingus, Mingus: Two Memoirs (with Janet Coleman), Heaven: Collected Poems 1956-1990, The Sound of Dreams Remembered: Poems 1990-2000, and the forthcoming The Future of Love.