Bossa Nova Daydreams

Sylvia Telles — a Defining Voice of Bossa Nova
March 23, 2009, 4:41 pm
Filed under: Bossa Nova Divas | Tags: , , , ,

The vocal styles of the bossa nova divas are deliciously diverse, making it difficult and, indeed, undesirable to formulate a single stereotype for the genre. But one voice defines the essence of the bossa nova aesthetic: that of Sylvia (or Sylvinha) Telles. Smooth, sophisticated, generally understated, yet somehow bursting with raw emotion, Sylvinha’s vocal artistry and unforgettable, chocolatey vocal timbre are the perfect match for the romantic but cool feel of bossa nova ballads.

Sylvinha enjoyed a successful musical and television career in Brazil, but never became well-known internationally. Her on-stage career spanned little more than a decade, having been cut short by her untimely death at the age of 32. Her short life and career are the likely reasons for her limited notoriety. Only now, as many people are rediscovering the roots of Bossa Nova and other styles of Brazilian popular music, is her music finding a wider audience.

A Silken Thread


Sylvia Telles

Sylvinha’s voice was like a silken thread that tied together Bossa Nova’s golden years. That fact that she played a prominent role throughout the evolution of the Bossa Nova culture is illustrated by her close personal association with some of the key figures of the genre, and by her participation in many of the seminal shows and concerts of the era. Among the most influential bossa nova musicians in Sylvinha’s life were singer/guitarist João Gilberto, composer-lyricist Billy Blanco, guitarist Candinho, the legendary composer-guitarist Garoto, and musician/producer Aloysio de Oliveira.

 Snapshots from Sylvinha’s Life (a Chronology)

Sylvia Telles was born in 1934 in Rio de Janeiro to a Brazilian father and a French mother. The family were fans of classical music. In her teens, Sylvia studied dance, and dreamed of becoming a ballet dancer. But soon after she took up theater classes, and that was when she realized she had a talent for singing.

In 1954, a family friend, the composer-lyricist Billy Blanco discovered Sylvinha’s musical abilities and went on to introduce her to the legendary composer and guitarist, Garoto. In that same year she met her first boyfriend, João Gilberto, who later went on to become synonymous with the bossa nova style. The relationship didn’t last, because Sylvia’s father didn’t think João Gilberto was suitable for her, given that he had no regular job or home at the time and moved from place to place, living off the good graces of others.

In 1955, Sylvinha was invited to perform in Garoto’s new show, “Gente de Bem e Champonhata” at the Teatro Follies de Copacabana. Her duet on the song “Amandinho torradinho” (Roasted Peanuts), with her soon-to-be husband, Candinho, was a hit with the public, and their success landed them co-host roles on the television musical program “Música e Romance” which first aired in 1956. In that “I Love Lucy”-style live broadcast, Sylvinha and Candinho played themselves, hosting numerous popular musicians of the day, who came to their “house” to perform and chat in a kind of cozy, salon-like atmosphere.

In the following year, 1957, Sylvinha recorded her first solo LP, Carícia, which featured lush orchestral arrangements by Maestro Léo Peracchi of songs by A.C. Jobim, Tito Madi, Garoto and others. Also in 1957, she gave birth to her only daughter, Claudia Telles. Claudia went on to become a well-known singer and performer in her own right.

Even after enjoying a certain level of fame and success from her live performances, television shows and recordings, Sylvinha stayed involved with the grass-roots developments of Bossa Nova. For example, she regularly took part in the now legendary musical evenings at the apartment of Nara Leão, another important bossa nova diva. These musical get-togethers served as a kind of musical and social networking laboratory for the burgeoning musical genre, and many of the later stars of Bossa Nova participated, offering up new compositions and stylistic innovations that eventually became the trademarks of the style.

Two of the hallmark shows in the development of Bossa Nova took place in Rio in the late fifties. The first was at the Hebrew Group University in 1958. The other was the “I Festival de Samba Session” held at the Faculdade Nacional de Arquitetura. The shows are historically important because they brought together many of the leading lights of the emerging genre on a single stage. The 1958 show is also famous for being the occasion where the term “bossa nova” is said to have first been coined. Sylvia was one of the key performers at both shows.

It was at this time that musician and producer Aloysio de Oliveira became a big part of Sylvinha’s life. Aloysio is known as one of the most important record producers of Bossa Nova. After working for Odeon and Philips, Aloysio went on to start his own record label, Elenco, which became the leading label for definitive Bossa Nova recordings. In 1961, Aloysio began to manage Sylvinha’s career. Aloysio, who had previously toured the USA as a performer with Carmen Miranda, organized Sylvinha’s first trip to the USA. There she recorded the album “Silvia Telles USA”. The working relationship developed into a fiery romance. Sylvinha divorced Candinho in 1963 and soon after, married Aloysio. The marriage is reported to have been quite rocky. Sylvinha apparently even set fire to her dressing room at one point after a jealous spat with Aloysio. Considering the dramatic ups and downs of their relationship, it is no surprise that the two separated only a year later, in 1964.

1964 was a significant year for Sylvia for other reasons, some good and some bad. Once again she was a key perfomer in an important bossa nova show, this time at the Paramount Theater in São Paulo. By that time, Bossa Nova had become an international sensation. The show, called “O remédio é bossa”, featured a cast of performers who by then had achieved star status for their roles in the genre, and it was perhaps one of the last big shows of Bossa Nova’s golden years. Sadly, after the success of the show, Sylvinha’s luck started to run out. She had a serious car accident and had to be repeatedly hospitalized.

Two years later, Sylvinha had recovered and was back on stage. She went on tour with Edu Lobo, another vocal star of Bossa Nova. Her last performance, with Edu, took place in West Germany. After the tour, Sylvinha was back in Rio, and now romantically involved with Horacio de Carvalho. But once again tragedy struck—and this time it was terminal. Sylvia and Horacio were driving out of town on the freeway when Horacio reportedly fell asleep at the wheel. The ensuing car crash took both Sylvinha’s and Horacio’s lives. She was only 32 years old.

 Key Recordings

Some of these recordings have been reissued on compact disc, for example, “Reencontro”. Others are not commercially available, but can be found on the internet without much difficulty. One excellent resource is

Carícia (1957)
Silvia (1958)
Amor de Gente Moça (1959)
Amor em Hi-Fi (1960)
Sylvia Telles U.S.A. (1961)
Bossa Nova Mesmo (with Carlos Lyra, Laís, Lúcio Alves, Vinicius de Moraes and Conjunto Oscar Castro Neves) (1962)
Bossa, Balanço, Balada (1963)
The Face I Love (1964)
Reencontro (Edu Lobo, Tamba Trio and Quinteto Villa-Lobos) (1966)
The Music of Mr. Jobim by Sylvia Telles (1966)


  1. Dicionário Cravo Albin da Música Popular Brasileira (, see the entry on Sylvia Telles. (in English and Portuguese)
  2. Wikipedia (Portuguese version) entry on Sylvia Telles (
  3. Bossa Nova: The Story of the Brazilian Music That Seduced the World, by Ruy Castro. Published by Chicago Review Press (2003), ISBN-10: 1556524943, ISBN-13: 978-1556524943.



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