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Vinícius de Moraes: 1913-1980: Songwriter, Playwright, Poet, Diplomat

Bossa Nova Songwriting Career Flourished

The film version of Black Orpheus vividly captured the kaleidoscopic energy of the Brazilian Carnival celebration, but Moraes felt that the film's French makers treated Brazilian culture as an exotic experience rather than really exploring the issues raised in his play. Nevertheless, Black Orpheus marked the beginning of a new level in the careers of both Moraes and Jobim, who now began to experience wide success as a popular songwriting team. They often worked in the elegant, jazz-influenced bossa nova genre, pioneered by Jobim and vocalist-guitarist João Gilberto. In 1963 their fame reached international dimensions with the bossa nova song "The Girl from Ipanema," which featured Gilberto's wife, Astrud, on vocals. Ironically, the song gained little popularity in Brazil itself.

Moraes wrote the song after Jobim became infatuated with an attractive young woman whom he saw through the window of a bar where the two songwriting partners were relaxing, not far from Rio's famed Ipanema Beach. (The street where the bar is located was later named after Moraes.) "The Girl from Ipanema," fitted with a verse of English lyrics, perfectly evoked a tropical vacationland for U.S. listeners. The song won a Grammy award for Record of the Year in 1964, and touched off an international bossa nova craze that still echoed 20 years later in such recordings as Nigerian jazz singer Sade's "Smooth Operator." "The Girl from Ipanema" has been recorded well over 100 times and remains a jazz standard.

Bounced from the diplomatic corps after running afoul of Brazil's military dictatorship in 1969, Moraes emerged as a thorn in the regime's side in the 1970s. In concert appearances he satirized the regime's excesses, but his stature as an elder statesman of Brazilian music and poetry protected him from reprisals. He remained active as a lyricist and poet until the end of his life. Vinícius de Moraes died in Rio de Janeiro of a lung disease on July 10, 1980. Numerous releases of his music remain available, and in 1999 Orfeu da Conceição was filmed once again by Brazilian new-wave director Carlos Diegues.

Selected writings

O caminho para a distância (poetry), 1933.

Forma e exegese (poetry), 1935.

Novos poemas (poetry), 1938.

Cinco elegias (poetry), 1938, pub. 1943.

Orfeu da Conceição (play), 1956.

The Girl from Ipanema (song text), 1962.

Numerous popular song lyrics in samba and bossa nova styles.



Bradbury, Malcolm, ed., Penguin Companion to American Literature, McGraw-Hill, 1971.

Foster, David William, and Virginia Ramos Foster, Modern Latin American Literature, Ungar, 1975.

McGowan, Chris, and Ricardo Pessanha, The Brazilian Sound, Billboard Books, 1991.

Stern, Irwin, Dictionary of Brazilian Literature, Greenwood Press, 1988.


New York Times, July 11, 1980, p. A15.

Saturday Review, February 9, 1974, p. 30.

—James M. Manheim

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Barbara Barbieri McGrath (1953–) Biography - Personal to Fridtjof Nansen (1861–1930) BiographyVinícius de Moraes: 1913-1980: Songwriter, Playwright, Poet, Diplomat Biography - Named After Character In Novel, Served As Diplomat In Los Angeles, Bossa Nova Songwriting Career Flourished