Sergio Mendes was born February 11, 1941 in Niterói, Brazil and is a musician whose style incorporates sounds of bossa nova, jazz, disco and funk. As a child, Mendes had dreams of being a classical pianist, which by the time he was a teenager had grown into becoming a jazz musician. As his interest in jazz grew, he started playing in nightclubs in the late-1950s just as bossa nova, a jazz-inflected derivative of samba, was emerging. Mendes played with Antonio Carlos Jobim and many U.S. jazz musicians who toured Brazil.
Mendes formed the Sexteto Bossa Rio and recorded “Dance Moderno” in 1961. Touring Europe and the United States, Mendes recorded albums with Cannonball Adderley and Herbie Mann and played Carnegie Hall. Mendes moved to the U.S. in 1964 and cut two albums under the Sergio Mendes & Brasil '65 group name with Capitol Records and Atlantic Records.
Mendes became full partners with Richard Adler, a Brooklyn-born American, and eventually formed Brasil '65 which consisted of Jorge Ben, Wanda Sá, and Rosinha de Valença, as well as the Sergio Mendes Trio. The group then recorded albums for Atlantic and Capitol.
When sales were tepid, he replaced his Brazilian born vocalist Wanda de Sá with the distinctive voice of Chicago native Lani Hall, switched to Herb Alpert's A&M label, and in 1966 released, “Herb Alpert Presents Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66,” an album that went platinum based largely on the success of the single and Jorge Ben cover, “Mas Que Nada” and the personal support of Alpert, with whom Mendes toured regularly.
The original lineup of Brasil '66 was Mendes (piano), vocalists Lani Hall and Bibi Vogel (later replaced by Janis Hansen), Bob Matthews (bass), José Soares (percussion) and João Palma (drums). John Pisano guested as guitarist. This new line-up including Hansen then recorded two more albums between 1966 and1968 (including the best-selling LP “Look Around”), before there was a major personnel change for their fourth album “Fool on the Hill.”
Though his early singles with Brasil '66 (most notably “Mas Que Nada”) met with some success, Mendes really burst into mainstream prominence when he performed the Oscar-nominated Burt Bacharach and Hal David song "”The Look of Love” on the Academy Awards telecast in April 1968. Brasil '66's version of the song quickly shot into the Top 10, peaking at #4 on the Billboard Pop chart and eclipsing Dusty Springfield's version from the soundtrack of the movie, “Casino Royale.”
Mendes spent the rest of 1968 enjoying consecutive Top 10 and Top 20 hits with his follow-up singles, “The Fool on the Hill” and “Scarborough Fair.” From 1968 on, Mendes was arguably the biggest Brazilian star in the world and enjoyed immense popularity worldwide, performing in venues as varied as stadium arenas and the White House, where he gave concerts for both Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon.
Mendes' career in the U.S. stalled in the mid-1970s, but he remained very popular in South America and Japan. His two albums with Bell Records in 1973 and 1974 followed by several for Elektra from 1975 on, found Mendes continuing to mine the best in American pop music and post-Bossa writers of his native Brazil, while forging new directions in soul with collaborators like Stevie Wonder, who wrote Mendes' R&B-inflected minor hit, “The Real Thing.”
In 1983, he rejoined Alpert's A&M records and enjoyed huge success with a self-titled album and several follow-up albums, all of which received considerable adult contemporary airplay with charting singles. “Never Gonna Let You Go,” featuring vocals by Joe Pizzulo and Leza Miller, equaled the success of his 1968 single “The Look of Love” by reaching #4 on the Billboard Hot 100Singles chart. It also spent four weeks atop the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.
In 1984 he recorded the “Confetti” album, which had the hit songs “Olympia,” which was also used as a theme song for the Olympic games that year and “Alibis.” The 1980s also found Mendes working with singer Lani Hall again on the song “No Place to Hide” from the “Brasil '86” album, and as producer for her vocals on the title song for the James Bond film “Never Say Never Again.”
By the time Mendes released his Grammy-winning Elektra album “Brasileiro” in 1992, he was the undisputed master of pop-inflected Brazilian jazz. The late-1990s lounge music revival brought retrospection and respect to Mendes' oeuvre, particularly the classic Brasil '66 albums.
His 2006 album, “Timeless” featured a wide array of neo-soul and alternative hip hop guest artists, including The Black Eyed Peas, Erykah Badu, Black Thought, Jill Scott, Chali 2na of Jurassic 5, India.Arie, John Legend, Justin Timberlake, Q-Tip, Stevie Wonder and Pharoahe Monch.
The 2006 re-recorded version of “Mas Que Nada” with The Black Eyed Peas had additional vocals by Mendes' wife Gracinha Leporace. The Black Eyed Peas' version contained a sample of their 2004 hit “Hey Mama.” The re-recorded song became popular on many European charts. On the U.K. Singles chart, the song peaked at # 6 on its second week on the chart.
In 2012 Mendes was nominated for an Academy Award for his work on the animated feature film “Rio.” The song “Real In Rio” was nominated for Best Original Song.