Sergio Mendes: A 60-Year Journey of Serendipity and Unbelievable Success


The best known Brazilian musician of all time

Sergio Mendes is an iconic pianist, producer, songwriter, band leader, Grammy winner and Oscar nominee. He is widely considered the best known Brazilian musician of all time, having reinvented himself continually over the course of a 60 year career. 

Sergio Mendes was born in Brazil to very supportive parents and fell in love with music at a young age. He performed with different bands, explored different styles, and was eventually signed to A & M Records. His unique sound, including his use of Portuguese lyrics, was embraced all over the world. His hit ‘Mas Que Nada’ was the first ever international hit of a song in Portuguese, and his cover of ‘The Look of Love’ was also a massive hit. Though he never expected it, his timing and unique sound made him an international success. One of the biggest on the planet.

Mas Que Nada is one of Sergio’s signature songs. It was voted the fifth greatest Brazilian song ever and inducted into the Latin Grammy Hall of Fame in 2013. Sergio says the key to successful songs is the simple melody.

Sergio goes pop

One of the biggest crossover Brazilian pop artists of his generation, Sergio Mendes helped define the sound of Latin pop and dance music in the 20th century. For most of the second half of the ’60s, Sergio was the top-selling Brazilian artist in the United States, charting huge hit singles that regularly made the Top Five. His records with his group Brasil 66 regularly straddled the domestic pop and international markets in America, getting played heavily on AM radio stations, both rock and easy listening, and he gave his label, A&M, something to offer light jazz listeners beyond the work of the company’s co-founder, Herb Alpert. During this period, he also became an international music star and one of the most popular musicians in South America.

Creating with John Legend

Born the son of a physician in Niteroi, Brazil, Sergio began studying music at the local conservatory while still a boy, with the intention of becoming a classical pianist. He was living in Rio de Janeiro as the bossa nova craze hit in the mid- to late ’50s, and at age 15, he abandoned classical music in favour of bossa nova. He started spending time with other young Brazilian musicians in Rio de Janeiro and he was heavily influenced by the work of American Jazz giants like Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Byrd. Sergio became the leader of his own group, made his first recording in 1961  and in 1964 he moved to the United States. The following year Sergio and his band — renamed Brasil 66 were signed to A&M Records.

The band enjoyed huge success that Sergio puts down to a combination of talent and serendipity. He relaunched his recording career with a new band, Sergio Mendes and Brasil 77 and then returned again in 1982. His 1983 comeback album was his first Top 40 album in nearly a decade-and-a-half, and was accompanied by his biggest chart single ever, “Never Gonna Let You Go,” which hit number four.

Well into his fourth decade as a performer, Sergio continued to work at a steady pace, assembling several groups over the years. He began to reinvent himself  and integrated the sounds of Bahian hip-hop into his music. Always aware of the need to stay relevant, in 2006, his album Timeless was released in 2006. It was his first album of newly recorded material in eight years. Two years later, Encanto appeared, including co-productions from from the Black Eyed Peas. 

Making hits with The Black Eyed Peas

He appeared at numerous festivals and performed a global tour then took a short break before beginning to record again. This time he was joined with friends, including John Legend, and many well known Brazilian artists. In 2019, he issued his latest studio album, In the Key of Joy in conjunction with a documentary film about his life.

In the Key of Joy

Sergio tells us all about his incredible life and career this week on A Breath of Fresh Air. If you’d like to know more about him, check out his website

and if you enjoy this episode head for some other great stories as told by former teen idol, Bobby Sherman

or master of the keyboards, Rick Wakeman

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