Yma Sumac (September 13, 1922 – November 1, 2008) was a Peruvian-American coloratura soprano. Sometimes known as The Peruvian Songbird, Sumac was a soprano of a five-octave range, producing a solo album, Mambo!
Peruvian soprano Yma Sumac was born Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chavarri del Castillo, in either Callao, Peru, in the Andes, or Ichocan, Cajamarca, Peru. Her birth has been listed as both September 13, 1922, and September 10, 1923. Although details about the birthdate and early life of Yma Sumac differ greatly, Damon Devine has stated that Mrs. Sumac was born Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chavarri del Castillo in Cajamarca, Peru, in 1922. Born Zoila Emperatriz Chavarri Castillo in Peru in 1922, Yma Sumacs stage name is taken from the Quechua word for “how pretty”.
Peruvian-born singer Yma Sumac, whose impressive, multi-octave vocal range and exotic persona made her an international sensation during the 1950s, has died. Tuesday marks what would have been the 94th birthday of Peruvian singer known as Yma Sumac, who was born Sept. 13, 1922, and became known around the world for her vocal range, which extended to at least four octaves. Peruvian singer Yma Sumac recorded an unusually broad vocal range that stretched over four octaves; she could sing notes in the lower baritone register, and also notes above that of a conventional soprano.
In the 1950s, she was one of the best-known exponents of exotica music, and became internationally successful based on the merits of her extreme vocal range, which was said to well above four octaves, and was sometimes claimed to extend as far as five at its height. During the 1950s, Yma Sumac produced a number of top-selling recordings of lounge music, featuring Hollywood-style arrangements of Incan and South American folk songs, working with Les Baxter and Billy May. Along with Yma Sumacs husband, agent, and composer Moises Vivanco, she became one of the biggest names in a colorful, theatrical, and lushly-produced otherworldly genre known as exotica, which bloomed during the 1950s.
The woman was Yma Sumac, the Peruvian songtress with a voice in the quadruple octave range who launched a musical genre known as Exotica, a cinematic amalgamation of international styles that gave audiences of the mid-20th century a glimpse of the mystical and far-flung. While some audiences were fascinated by exotica elements in the glamorous style of a woman performing, it was the pure brilliance of Sumacs voice that won over the world. Sumac caught the eye of curious observers as well as accomplished musicians.
Sumac was the imposing, ruddy-haired princess of Inca–a descendant, according to legend, of the last Incan King–who kept a vast wardrobe filled with lavish dresses, with her red lipstick applied always perfectly. Sumac channels the fabricated idea of Inca identity, being the made-up Inca princess. Once she reinvented herself, forced, as so many artists are, into creating new sounds in the name of success, Sumac adopted a tarted-up Inca princess identity with arrogant majesty. Under the guidance of the woman who had been in a glamorous marriage, Moises Vivanco, Sumac began transforming her persona into one which could fit in with North American ideas about exoticism.
As a young girl, Sumac was moved to Cajamarca, where her father was born and owned land. Her mother was the descendant of Atahualpa, the last Inca Emperor during the Spanish invasion of Peru. Peruvian soprano Yma Sumac is said to have been the daughter of Atahualpa, the last Inca emperor, and said she was the princess, according to CBS News. Sumac was born in the Cajamarca region in the northern Andes, and when she began her career in Lima in her late teens in 1940, she was part of a whole industry recording andean folk music for export.
What is undeniable is that Yma Sumac created a sensation as a transcendent singer-songwriter, selling millions of records, appearing on stage and in movies, filling European concert halls, and commanding $25,000 per show in Las Vegas. Sumac, who died in 2008 in Los Angeles at age 86, dazzled audiences for decades, performing into the 80s. While Sumac was said to be the first Latina on Broadway, that is untrue.
Carmen McEvoy, her voice over, attributes part of the singers lasting popularity to Yma Sumacs enduring mirror–and to Vivancos–remaining a reflection for all of those forging identities across borders not only geographic, but also cultural. Today, nearly 100 years after she was born, Yma Sumacs and her otherworldly vocals may be on the brink of another revival, thanks to the Madrid-based record company, which hopes to expose a new generation of listeners to some of Latin Americas greatest female singers from the latter half of the 20th century.
In 1954, music critic and composer Virgil Thomson described her stunning voice as very deep and warm, very high and birdlike, noting Yma Sumacs range was very near to five octaves. Some have said Ymas vocal range was four octaves, while others, including the glamorous Woman in Her Own Glory, have claimed that it was actually five. Yma Somak was capable of producing notes in sopranino, soprano, mezzo-soprano, contralto, tenor, baritone, and bass tessitura, and was the only one who could perform triple coloratura, or bird-trills.