Roberto Baden Powell de Aquino (6 August 1937 – 26 September 2000) usually known simply as Baden Powell, was one of the most prominent and celebrated Brazilian guitarists and guitar composers of his time. He explored the instrument to its utmost limits, playingit in a distinctive, unique manner, incorporating virtuoso classical techniques together with popular harmony and swing.
He performed in many styles, including bossa nova, samba, Brazilian jazz, Latin jazz and música popular brasileira. He performed on stage during most of his lifetime, and recorded an extensive discography composed of LP and CD albums produced in Brazil and Europe, particularly in France and Germany.
Roberto Baden Powell de Aquino was born in Varre-Sai in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. His father, a scouting enthusiast, named him after Robert Baden-Powell.
The family moved to Rio while Baden was still a boy, and he grew up surrounded by musicians playing lively sambas and plaintive choros. At the age of six, he began plucking the strings of his aunt's guitar, and his father sent him to study classical music at the Rio conservatory. By the time he was 15, he was playing professionally.
Soon he was accompanying some of the best-known singers of the day, playing on radio programmes, in nightclubs and dancehalls,
and climbing the hills of the shantytowns to play with some of Rio's legendary sambistas. He began to compose his own music - his first recorded song was Samba Triste (Sad Samba) - and he went on to compose more than 500.
The African rhythms of traditional samba remained one of the fundamental influences in Baden's work, but in the early 1960s he became associated with the new music of the bossa nova, a stylistic version of samba influenced by jazz, and began to compose in partnership with the diplomat and poet Vinicius de Moraes, one of the great names of the bossa nova period. Together, they composed 50 songs, Baden writing the music, Moraes the lyrics.
Mauro Dias wrote: "[Baden Powell's] melodies were always marked by a sensitive beauty, and his guitar interpretations were full of nuances, with improvisations that then turned into new masterpieces. But his touch was virile, the chords were always plucked with conviction, the pronunciation was very clear and brilliant."
Ruy Castro, a Brazilian writer who knew him personally, said: "Baden was a genius typical of his time, that of the last romantic generation of popular music. There was a time when he was famous: his songs were played on the radio, maids sang Berimbau (one of his best known songs) as they swept the floor, everyone knew his name and he never worried about turning this into money."
The 1964 military coup in Brazil brought this period to an end. As repression and censorship took hold, Baden Powell joined the exodus of Brazilian composers and musicians who took the plane to Europe in search of a more creative atmosphere. During those years, he released recordings in the Brazilian labels Elenco and Forma, as well as in the French label Barclay and the German label MPS/Saba (notably, his 1966 Tristeza on Guitar, considered by many to be a high point in his career).
For the next 20 years, he lived abroad, first in Paris, then in Baden-Baden in Germany - a joke, because of his name. As a result of playing at jazz clubs and festivals, he became better known in Europe than in his own country, to which he only returned for brief visits. After playing with Thelonious Monk and Stan Getz in Paris, he became a name in the United States, with his unique blend of samba, jazz and classical influences.
By now, Baden had married and had two sons, born in Paris, but he was a heavy drinker, and sometimes would disappear for days on drinking bouts. Alcohol, and his total lack of interest in financial gain, meant that he never became wealthy.
"What messed him up were his personal life and a friend named Johnny Walker," said Ruy Castro. In 1997, having returned to live in Brazil, Baden converted to an evangelical Protestant faith, partly in an attempt to stop drinking. Weakened by alcoholism and a diabetic, Baden Powell was taken to hospital in Rio in August with pneumonia. He died of septicaemia on 26 September 2000, in Rio de Janeiro. (Info edited from Wikepedia & The Guardian obit)