Yma Sumac , who died on Saturday, probably aged 86, was a Peruvian singer and a phenomenon in the 1950s whose varied, tempestuous career started when her extraordinary voice, ranging over several octaves, startled people on the album Voice of Xtabuy.
The album went straight into the bestseller lists and was followed by Mambo!, arranged by Billy May, and Fuego del Ande (1959), perhaps her best record. British radio audiences were intrigued and countless requests flooded in to Children’s Choice, Two-Way Family Favourites and Housewives’ Choice.
Broadway was fascinated by her appearance in Flahooley (which also starred the young Barbara Cook) in the spring of 1951.
This strange musical satire starred Ernest Truex and concerned a genie in a lamp carelessly left behind at a toy factory by an Arabian princess.
The show gave the extraordinary range of Yma Sumac’s voice a chance to range from low contralto to A above high C, but it also revealed that the voice had not been trained.
Her part and the two songs it entailed had been hastily and badly written.
Yma Sumac claimed to have been born on September 10 1927 (or 1925), at Ichocán, a mountain town north of Lima, though her personal assistant, who claimed to have seen her birth certificate, gave her date of birth as September 13 1922. Her Spanish name was Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chavárri del Castillo; her Indian name, which meant “how beautiful”, was Imma Sumack, which she later altered to Yma Sumac.
She began to sing at church festivals and in 1941 a government official with a keen ear heard her. As a result Carlos Moises Vivanco, who was a musician and executive with the Peruvian Broadcasting Company, heard her and became her manager and, on in 1942, her husband as well.
Yma Sumac joined her husband’s Inca Taky Trio, which toured South America and Mexico and reached the United States in 1946 .
When she compromised her own musical impulses by appearing at the Blue Angel in New York, Capitol Records decided to take a risk; her first album for them, produced by Alan Livingstone, was released in 1950 . The record was a hit and, wearing exotic clothes and jewellery, Yma Sumac played to packed houses at the Hollywood Bowl and New York’s Hotel Pierre. Her voice became so well known that she became the subject of impersonations by comediennes : Joan Turner would do three or four bars of a Simac number and then spit, and growl: “Yma Tarmac – huh!’
She made two Hollywood films, neither any use: Secret of the Incas in 1954 marked one of Charlton Heston’s first appearances. In 1957 Omar Khayyam, which starred Cornel Wilde, was little better. The audiences would have preferred it as a musical since Yma Sumac had considerably livened up Hollywood’s version of Persian history.
In the latter part of the decade she divorced her husband, after he faced in a paternity suit brought by his secretary, who had had his twins. Yma Sumac remarried him in 1961, but they soon broke up again.
She toured North America with the Montreal and Toronto symphony orchestras; completed a concert tour of the West Coast and in 1961 toured the Soviet Union.
Yma Sumac fell out of favour during the 1960s, and spent the decade touring small venues. She attempted a comeback in America in 1968 with a disastrous concert in California. In 1972 she made Miracles, her first album for 13 years. It was not a success. However, her work continued to feature occasionally in soundtracks for films, and she gradually acquired a cult following. Bruce Springsteen declared: “It takes only a fraction of a second to succumb to her unique voice.”
During the early 1980s she recorded several more records and performed at Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl.
In 1987 she appeared on a collection of Disney songs entitled Stay Awake, alongside such figures as Ringo Starr and Sinead O’Connor.
She had a run of several weeks at the Ballroom in New York where, flanked by what purported to be Incan statues, she was greeted by “young boys screaming. I was shocked”, she said. “But they explained to me that it was because they adore Yma Sumac. All the big stars come to see Yma Sumac. What is the name of that one, I think Madonna?”
Yma Sumac never remarried. She is survived by her son.
Yma Sumac’s short review of lengedary songs:
L A T E S T N E W S
source: official site of Yma Sumac – the Inca Princes
* It is with deep sadness, that we report that Yma Sumac passed away**
at 11 am on Saturday Nov 1st. It was peaceful. Those closest to her
were at her side.*
* A very, /very/ private funeral will be held at an undisclosed
location. Per _her_ * * and her closest relative’s instructions, she
will be interred in Hollywood, where she spent 60 years of her life. *
* Her last year was spent surrounded by people who loved her and looked
after her with the very best care possible. It should be a consolation
that she was always surrounded by flowers, your beautiful cards, photos
of her glory days, and an extraordinary view of Los Angeles’ west
side. Also, her personal assistant’s two*
* little Chihuahua’s, whom she loved dearly. *
* Although this news is written as “news” we are all devastated here.
Indeed, there was plenty of time to prepare, but when that final moment
comes, one finds they may not be at all prepared.*
* “That I made good music and made happy, their hearts” – Yma Sumac,
when asked what she wanted to be remembered for.*
source: Los Angeles Times
Yma Sumac, ‘Peruvian songbird’ with multi-octave range, dies at 86
After Sumac performed at the Shrine Auditorium with a company of dancers, drummers and musicians in 1955, a Los Angeles Times writer observed:
With her exotic beauty, elaborate costumes and singing voice that could imitate the cries of birds and wild animals, the woman who claimed to be a descendant of an ancient Incan emperor offered Eisenhower-era audiences something unique.
During her 1950s heyday, Sumac sang at the Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall and Royal Albert Hall. She reportedly made $25,000 a week in Las Vegas.
She was featured in the 1951 Broadway musical “Flahooley” and appeared in the films “Secret of the Incas” in 1954 and “Omar Khayyam” in 1957.
Although details of her birth date and early life vary widely, Devine said Sumac was born Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chavarri del Castillo in Cajamarca, Peru, on Sept. 13, 1922.
Sumac said she began singing when she was about 9.
After joining Vivanco’s large group of native singers, dancers and musicians, she made her radio debut in 1942; she and Vivanco were married the same year.
In Argentina in 1943, Sumac and Vivanco’s group recorded a series of Peruvian folk songs. By then, she was known professionally as Imma Sumack. (Capitol Records later changed the spelling.)
In 1946, she and her husband moved to New York City, where they performed as the Inca Taky Trio, with Vivanco on guitar, Sumac singing soprano and her cousin Cholita Rivero singing contralto and dancing.
After making her name as a solo artist, Sumac toured around the world for several years in the ’60s, but her popularity in the U.S. had waned by then.
In 1971, she recorded a psychedelic rock album, “Miracles,” that was not widely released, and semi-retired to Peru later in the decade — at least that’s what she always said.
“That’s the legend that she stuck with all through these decades,” Devine, who runs the Sumac website www.yma-sumac.com, told The Times in June. “She didn’t want people to know she was here and not working. The story was good for her. She’s a very eccentric woman. . . . Her whole career and life is based on her mystery, and so the facts and fiction is a fine line with her.”
Sumac, however, did return to performing in 1984 at the Vine Street Bar & Grill and the Cinegrill in Hollywood. In the early 1990s, she toured in Europe and continued to perform until 1997.
“The younger generation loves the music, loves Yma,” Sumac told the Tampa Tribune in 1996. “The new generation told me many times: ‘Miss Yma, we love you. Your music is something. It’s out of this world.’ ”
Sumac, who was divorced from and remarried to Vivanco in the late ’50s and divorced from him again in 1965, is survived by their son, Charles, who lives in Europe, and three sisters, who live in Peru.
Services will be private.
McLellan is a Times staff writer.
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