Music, Joy, and Serendipity: Sérgio Mendes on His Magical 60-Year Career

In our video interview, Mendes talks about treasured moments from his storied life in music ahead of his special debuting on PBS on Sunday.

“There’s a word in English that I love,” remarks Sérgio Mendes at the beginning of Sérgio Mendes & Friends: A Celebration, a PBS television special that premieres this Sunday, June 6. “’Serendipity’— that’s the story of my life!”

A condensed one-hour edit of the forthcoming documentary Sérgio Mendes: In the Key of Joy, directed by John Scheinfeld (whose acclaimed films include The U.S. vs. John Lennon and Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary), A Celebration details a most serendipitous 60-year journey indeed, one which somehow turned an earnest young pianist from Niterói, Brazil into a Grammy-winning, Oscar-nominated, internationally renowned bandleader, composer, and arranger.

It has been an incredible ride, but while immense musical talent and hard work have obviously played a major part in his success, Mendes—who received the Latin Grammys’ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005—cheerfully insists that serendipity has been the driving force, and maybe he’s right. After all, when Lani Hall (the voice of most of the big Brasil ’66 hits) left his group in 1971 to marry Herb Alpert, he replaced her with Brazilian singer Gracinha Leporace…who not only became his muse, but also became his wife.

Mendes recently spoke to us via Zoom from his and Leporace’s home in Los Angeles. Charming, affable, and still as deeply into music at the age of 80 as he was back when he was cutting his teeth playing jazz and bossa nova at Copacabana’s Bottles Bar, Mendes talked of treasured memories from his career and much more. Watch the interview above.

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