10 Powerhouse Women Sing Bossa Nova Classics

With all of the many styles of music performed and appreciated in Brazil, it was bossa nova that turned the world’s attention to Brazil and the country’s bountiful musical tradition.

Here’s a playlist of bossa nova classics, composed by the greats—like Antonio Carlos (Tom) Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes, Joao Gilberto and Carlinhos Lyra—and sung by the incredible female voices of the era.

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"Voce E Eu" ("You and Me") sung by Maria Bethania

Maria Bethânia
Sebastian Freire/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

Vinicius de Moraes was quite a character. One of his favorite pastimes was sitting in a bathtub, where he would invite people to join him and even conduct interviews. Luckily, Moraes wasn’t in the bathtub when Carlinhos Lyra went looking for lyrics to a couple of his tunes. One of these was “Voce E Eu.”

Maria Bethania, one of Brazil’s most glorious voices and sister of Caetano Veloso, came on the scene in the mid-1960s and is more often associated with Tropicalia/MPB then with bossa nova. Her 1978 album Alibi marked the first time a woman sold a million copies of an album in Brazil.

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"Primavera" ("Springtime") sung by Claudette Soares

Vinicius de Moraes

Ricardo Alfieri/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

In 1963, Carlinhos Lyra and Vinicius de Moraes took a turn at writing a musical comedy, Poor Little Rich Girl. The show, starring a very young and frightened Nara Leao, was not a success, but a number of the show’s songs became popular, including "Primavera.”

Claudette Soares eagerly left her fame as the “Little Princess of Baiao” behind when she moved on to samba jazz and bossa nova. Her first solo album was Claudette e Dona da Bossa, released in 1964.

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"Garota de Ipanema" ("Girl From Ipanema") sung by Joyce Moreno

Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto
Redferns/Getty Images

Although not the first version of the song, “Garota de Ipanema” hit the charts with the 1964 album Getz/Gilberto. It also rocketed Joao Gilberto’s wife Astrud to international fame. Sung as a duet between husband (Portuguese) and wife (English), Astrud was only added to the album because Joao couldn’t sing in English.

Joyce Moreno (born Joyce Silveira Palhano de Jesus, and often known simply as "Joyce") is another Brazilian singer/songwriter more closely associated with MPB (although she prefers ‘MCB’ – Creative Music of Brazil) than with bossa nova but she’s recorded plenty of both, including 1987’s Jobim, and the 1988 tribute to bossa Joyce Chante Antonio Carlos Jobim & Vinicius de Moraes.

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"Bim Bom" sung by Astrud Gilberto

Astrud Gilberto
Kroon, Ron/Anefo/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0 NL

In 1956, Joao Gilberto’s career hadn’t really taken off and he was at an all time low when he wrote “Bim Bom” in an effort to reflect the swaying of the hips of washerwomen as they passed him by.

Astrud Gilberto, wife of Joao and mother of Bebel, hadn’t planned on a career in music, but her breathy version of “The Girl From Ipanema” brought her unexpected accolades and a career that has spanned over four decades. She made her solo debut with The Astrud Gilberto Album in 1964.

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"Chega De Saudade" ("No More Blues") sung by Nara Leao

Nara Leão
LaedapoyS2Sz/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

If there’s a song that officially kicked-off the bossa nova craze in Brazil, it was “Chega de Saudade.” Written by Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes, the single was released in July 1958 and sung by Joao Gilberto. Gilberto went on to record the landmark album by the same name.

Bossa nova was a young man’s game and Nara Leao was a teenager when the apartment where she lived with her father became the meeting place for the group that would soon create the ‘new way’ – the literal meaning of bossa nova. She was their mascot and their muse and went on to have her own successful—though relatively short-lived—career.

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"Corcovado" ("Quiet Night of Quiet Stars") sung by Elis Regina

Elis Regina
Rubenilson23/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

Perhaps the most famous lyrics in bossa nova are from “Corcovado.” Jobim originally wrote: “A cigarette and a guitar/This love, this song.” During rehearsals, Joao Gilberto asked for the first line to be changed because “cigarettes are bad for you.” “A quiet corner and a guitar” became the new lyric.

Elis Regina was a force of nature. Her powerful and relentless personality inspired the nicknames “Hurricane” and “Little Pepper,” her generous, powerful voice moved a country to regard her as their most popular diva. Regina eventually evolved to become the highest paid singer in Brazil.

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"Desafinado" ("Off-Key") sung by Wanda Sa

Joao Gilberto
Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images

“Desafinado” was recorded by Joao Gilberto and appeared on the 1959 landmark album Chega de Saudade. It was the Bossa clique’s reply to early critics who claimed that the new music was for ‘off-key’ singers. The public was not used to the genre’s unusual harmonies and melodic alterations; “Desafinado” served as bossa nova’s anthem.

Wanda Sa moved to Rio from Sao Paulo because of her love for bossa nova. She released her debut album in 1964 then went on to sing with Sergio Mendes’ Brazil ’65. After taking a break to focus on family, she made her comeback in 1994 with Brasileiras.

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"Dindi" sung by Sylvinha Telles

Tom Jobim
GAB Archive/Contributor/Getty Images

From the moment that Vinicius de Moraes got together to compose Bossa with Tom Jobim, Moraes jealously guarded the partnership, keeping Jobim so busy he could rarely sneak away to compose songs with someone else. He succeeded in 1959 when he partnered with Aloysio De Oliveira on the classic “Dindi.”

With 1959’s Amor de Gente Moca, singer/songwriter Sylvinha (Sylvia) Telles became the first professional singer to release an album devoted to Bossa. Her short career was almost exclusively devoted to the genre; in 1956 she died in a car accident in the U.S. just as she was about to return home.

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"O Barquinho" ("Little Boat") sung by Leny Andrade

Leny Andrade
25º Prêmio da Música Brasileira/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

For a change of pace, “O Baraquinho” was written by Ronaldo Boscoli and Roberto Menescal sometime between 1960-1961. It was the beginning of their musical partnership and sun, sea, and sand were the themes of the season.

Leny Andrade sang her share of bossa nova, but her long career also included samba, bolero and most notably jazz. She was skilled at improvisation and scat and was called the best jazz singer in Brazil.

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"Insensatez" ("How Insensitive") sung by Elizeth Cardoso

Frank Sinatra in a recording studio with Brazilian songwriter and musician Antonio Carlos Jobim (also known as Tom Jobim), circa 1967.
Antonio Carlos (Tom) Jobim and Frank Sinatra. Pictorial Parade/Staff/Getty Images

Another Jobim/Moraes composition, “​Insensatez” first appeared on ​Joao Gilberto released in 1961. It was also one of the songs that appeared on the album Jobim recorded with Frank Sinatra, Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Elizeth Cardoso was older than most of the artist involved in bossa; she was already a radio artist in the 1930/1940s. In 1958 she recorded the milestone album of Jobim/Moraes songs on Cancao de Amor Demais. She also sang some of the numbers on the Luiz Bonfa/Jobim composed Black Orpheus.