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LEILA PINHEIRO was born in Belém, in the state of Pará, in the north of Brazil. She began studying the piano when she was 10 years old. In her 20s, she left medical school to dedicate herself entirely to her career in music. In October 1980 she made her singing debut in the show Sinal de Partida, in Belém. By May of 1981, she moved to Rio de Janeiro, and within two months had begun to independently record her first record, Leila Pinheiro, released in 1983; she was joined by musicians such as Tom Jobim, and Ivan Lins on piano.

In 1985, she competed in the Brazilian Festival of Festivals. She came in third place and was awarded the prize for Best New Artist. She was signed by PolyGram (now Universal) in 1986, and completed Olhu Nu, distributed both in Brazil and Japan, featuring Pat Metheny on guitar. This album led to Pinheiro's first trip to Japan, representing Brazil in the 19th Annual Yamaha Worldwide Festival. The following year she received the Villa Lobos award for Best New Female Artist from the Brazilian Association of Record Producers.

In 1989 she released Bênção, Bossa Nova, celebrating 30 years of bossa nova. In 1991 she released Outras Caras, also on PolyGram, with songs by Caetano Veloso, Guilherme Arantes, and Guinga among others. The following year, PolyGram released Coisas do Brasil, produced and arranged by the musician. The CD features the work of Chico Buarque, Carlos Lyra, and Ivan Lins among other great Brazilian composers. The same year, she made her European debut, performing in countries such as Belgium, Holland, France, and Spain.

Since this tour, she has signed with EMI Music, continued to release extraordinary albums, and toured all around the world. In the United States, Leila appeared at Carnegie Hall in the show "All Jobim," in honor of the composer Antônio Carlos Jobim. In January 2001, she signed a contract with Universal Music, and her first album was a live recording including some of her Brazilian friends such as Ivan Lins.