Sumac signs an autograph after a concert in 1953.
|Birth name||Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chávarri del Castillo|
|Also known as||Yma Sumac "The Peruvian Songbird"|
September 13, 1922|
|Died||November 1, 2008
Los Angeles, California, United States
|Genres||Exotica, world, mambo, lounge|
She became an international success based on her extreme vocal range, which was said to be "well over four octaves" and was sometimes claimed to span even five octaves at her peak. Yma Sumac recorded an extraordinarily wide vocal range of slightly over four octaves from B2 to C♯7 (approximately 123 to 2270 Hz). She was able to sing notes in the low baritone register as well as notes above the range of an ordinary soprano. Both low and high extremes can be heard in the song Chuncho (The Forest Creatures) (1953). She was also apparently able to sing in an eerie "double voice".
In 1954 classical composer Virgil Thomson described her voice as "very low and warm, very high and birdlike", noting that her range "is very close to four octaves, but is in no way inhuman or outlandish in sound". In 2012, audio recording restoration expert John H. Haley favorably compared Sumac's tone to opera singers Isabella Colbran, Maria Malibran and Pauline Viardot. He described Sumac's voice as not having the "bright penetrating peal of a true coloratura soprano", but having in its place "an alluring sweet darkness ...virtually unique in our time".
Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chávarri del Castillo was born on September 13, 1922, in Callao, a seacoast city in Peru. Her parents were Sixto Chavarri, who was born in Cajamarca and Emilia Castillo, born in Pallasca, Ancash.
Stories published in the 1950s claimed that she was an Incan princess, directly descended from Atahualpa. The government of Peru in 1946 formally supported her claim to be descended from Atahualpa, the last Incan emperor". She was the subject of a series of publicity campaigns designed to shroud her origins in mystery: was she an Inca princess, one of the chosen ‘Golden Virgins’? Or a Brooklyn housewife named Amy Camus (Yma Sumac spelt backwards)? Whatever the doubts as to her heritage, what was abundantly genuine was Sumac’s four octave range, ascending from ‘female baritone, through lyric soprano, to high coloratura’.
Chávarri adopted the stage name of Imma Sumack (also spelled Ymma Sumack and Ima Sumack) before she left South America to go to the United States. The stage name was based on her mother's name, which was derived from Ima Shumaq, Quechua for "how beautiful!" although in interviews she claimed it meant "beautiful flower" or "beautiful girl".
Yma Sumac first appeared on radio in 1942. Sumac and orchestra and bandleader Moisés Vivanco were married that year. She recorded at least 18 tracks of Peruvian folk songs in Argentina in 1943. These early recordings for the Odeon label featured Moisés Vivanco's group, Compañía Peruana de Arte, a group of 46 Indian dancers, singers, and musicians.
Sumac married composer and bandleader Moisés Vivanco on June 6, 1942. She had a son, Charles, in 1949. In 1946 Sumack and Vivanco moved to New York City, where they performed as the Inka Taky Trio, Sumack singing soprano, Vivanco on guitar, and her cousin Cholita Rivero singing contralto and dancing. She was signed by Capitol Records in 1950, at which time her stage name became Yma Sumac. Her first album "Voice of the Xtabay" launched a period of fame that included performances at the Hollywood Bowl and Carnegie Hall. More than 1 million copies of the album were sold that year and she sang in the famous Hollywood Bowl. In 1952 she made her first tour to Europe and Africa, and debuted at the Royal Albert Hall in London and the Royal Festival Hall before the Queen.She presented more than 80 concerts in London alone and 16 concerts in Paris. A second tour took her to travel to the Far East: Persia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Burma, Thailand, Sumatra, the Philippines and Australia. Her fame in countries like Greece, Israel and Russia made her change her two weeks stay to six months offering fabulous concerts. The opening shows during her concert in the Mikado Theater in Japan were Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich and Ballet Lido from Paris.
During the 1950s, Yma Sumac produced a series of lounge music recordings featuring Hollywood-style versions of Incan and South American folk songs, working with the likes of Les Baxter and Billy May. The combination of her extraordinary voice, exotic looks, and stage personality made her a hit with American audiences. Sumac appeared in a Broadway musical, Flahooley, in 1951, as a foreign princess who brings Aladdin's lamp to an American toy factory to have it repaired. The show's score was by Sammy Fain and E. Y. "Yip" Harburg, but Sumac's three numbers were the work of Vivanco with one co-written by Vivanco and Fain. During the '50s Sumac continued to be popular, playing Carnegie Hall, the Roxy Theatre with Danny Kaye, Las Vegas nightclubs and concert tours of South America and Europe. She put out a number of hit albums, such as "Mambo!" (1954) and "Fuego del Ande" (1959).
Capitol Records, Sumac's label, recorded the show. Flahooley closed quickly, but the recording continues as a cult classic, in part because it also marked the Broadway debut of Barbara Cook. During the height of Sumac's popularity, she appeared in the films Secret of the Incas (1954) with Charlton Heston and Robert Young and Omar Khayyam (1957) and in Mexico she acted alongside Edith Piaf and Libertad Lamarque. She became a U.S. citizen on July 22, 1955. In 1959 she performed Jorge Bravo de Rueda's classic song "Vírgenes del Sol" on her album Fuego del Ande.
In 1957 Sumac and Vivanco divorced, as Vivanco had had twins with another woman. They remarried that same year, but a second divorce followed in 1965. Sumac and Vivanco had one son, Charles.
Apparently due to financial difficulties, Yma Sumac and the original Inka Taky Trio went on a world tour in 1961, which lasted for five years. They performed in 40 cities in the Soviet Union, and afterward throughout Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Their performance in Bucharest, Romania, was recorded as the album Recital, her only "live in concert" record. Yma Sumac spent the rest of the 1960s performing sporadically.
In 1971 she released a rock album called Miracles. She performed in concert from time to time during the 1970s in Peru and later in New York at the Chateau Madrid and Town Hall. In the 1980s she resumed her career under the management of Alan Eichler and had a number of concerts both in the United States and abroad, including the Hollywood Roosevelt's Cinegrill, New York's Ballroom in 1987 (where she was held-over for seven weeks to SRO crowds) and several San Francisco shows at the Theatre on the Square among others. In 1987, she also recorded the song "I Wonder" from the Disney film Sleeping Beauty for Stay Awake, an album of songs from Disney movies, produced by Hal Willner. She sang "Ataypura" during a March 19, 1987 appearance on Late Night with David Letterman. She also recorded a new German "techno" dance record, "Mambo ConFusion".
In 1989 she sang once again at the Ballroom in New York and returned to Europe for the first time in 30 years to headline the BRT's "Gala van de Gouden Bertjes" New Year's Eve TV special in Brussels as well as the "Etoile Palace" program in Paris hosted by Frederic Mitterrand. In March 1990, she played the role of Heidi in Stephen Sondheim's Follies, in Long Beach, California, her first attempt at serious theater since Flahooley in 1951. She also gave several concerts in the summer of 1996 in San Francisco and Hollywood as well as two more in Montreal, Canada, in July 1997 as part of the Montreal International Jazz Festival.
In 1992 a documentary for German television entitled Yma Sumac – Hollywoods Inkaprinzessin (Yma Sumac – Hollywood's Inca Princess). With the resurgence of lounge music in the late 1990s, Sumac's profile rose again when the song "Ataypura" was featured in the Coen Brothers film, The Big Lebowski. Her song "Bo Mambo" appeared in a commercial for Kahlúa liquor and was sampled for the song "Hands Up" by The Black Eyed Peas. The song "Gopher Mambo" was used in the films Ordinary Decent Criminal, Dead Husbands, Spy Games, and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. "Gopher Mambo" was also used in an act of the Cirque Du Soleil show Quidam. The songs "Goomba Boomba" and "Malambo No. 1" appeared in Death to Smoochy. Yma Sumac is also mentioned in the lyrics of the 1980s song "Joe le taxi" by Vanessa Paradis, and her album Mambo is the record that Belinda Carlisle pulls out of its jacket in the video for "Mad About You".
On May 6, 2006, Sumac flew to Lima, where she was presented the Orden del Sol award by Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo and the Jorge Basadre medal by the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos.
Yma Sumac died on November 1, 2008, aged 86 at an assisted-living home in Los Angeles, nine months after being diagnosed with colon cancer. She was interred at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood in the "Sanctuary of Memories" section.
- Voice of the Xtabay (1950)
- Legend of the Sun Virgin (1952)
- Inca Taqui (1953)
- Mambo! (1954)
- Legend of the Jivaro (1957)
- Fuego Del Ande (1959)
- Recital (1961)
- Miracles (1971)
- The Spell of Yma Sumac (1987)
- Amor Indio (1994)
- Shou Condor (1997)
- Yma Rocks (1998)
- The Ultimate Yma Sumac Collection (2000)
- Virgin Of The Sun God (2002)
- The Exotic Sounds Of Yma Sumac (2002)
- Queen of Exotica (2005)
- At least 18 tracks of Peruvian folk songs in Argentina in 1943 for the Odeon Records label, with Moisés Vivanco's group, Compañía Peruana de Arte—a group of 46 Indian dancers, singers, and musicians. (At least five additional tracks from these sessions are instrumentals or feature other vocalists.)(10" 78 rpm)
- I Wonder on Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films, 1988 (one of Various Artists)
- Mambo ConFusion (1991), Deutsche Schallplatten Berlin (Germany CD Maxi-Single), DSB 3025-5 (CD Maxi-Single contains "Radio Version", longer "Maxi Version", and "Mambo Hip" version)
- Yma Sumac was officially born in Callao. Official Yma Sumac's Birth Certificate
- Ellen Highstein: 'Yma Sumac (Chavarri, Emperatriz)' Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy. (Accessed August 8, 2006)
- Clarke Fountain, "Yma Sumac: Hollywood's Inca Princess (review). Allmovie, reproduced in the New York Times. 1992. 
- David Richards, "The Trill of a Lifetime; Exotic Singer Yma Sumac Meets a New Wave of Fans." The Washington Post, March 2, 1987, STYLE; PAGE B1. Accessed August 6, 2006, via Lexis Nexis, 
- Suits, B.H. "Frequencies for equal-tempered scale". Michigan Tech Physics. Retrieved August 25, 2011.
- Secret Museum of the Air, October 6, 2002 program (5:15–5:57)
- Martin, Douglas (November 4, 2008), "Yma Sumac, Vocalist of the Exotic, Dies at 86", The New York Times, retrieved December 11, 2010
- Haley, John H. (Fall 2012). "A Re-evaluation of the artistry of Yma Sumac Based on Live Recordings". ARSC Journal (Association for Recorded Sound Collections) 43 (2): 163–195.
- Yma Súmac biography
- Peruvian Magazine Batuta N°3 Yma Sumac "my mother gave birth in Callao". 
- Alvarez-Russi, Raul (January 26, 2010). "Yma Sumac de regreso al Callao" (in Spanish). Callao.org. Retrieved December 15, 2011.
- Cusihuaman 2001: p. 47, 103
- Argentina Session 1943
- Moisés Vivanco
- Yma Sumac Receives Highest Peruvian Honor
- Official website
- "Yma Sumac, Vocalist of the Exotic, Dies at 86", The New York Times, November 4, 2008.