Yma Sumac

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Yma Sumac
Yma Sumac 1953.jpg
Sumac signs an autograph after a concert in 1953.
Background information
Birth nameZoila Augusta Emperatriz Chávarri del Castillo
Also known asYma Sumac
Born(1922-09-13)September 13, 1922
Callao,[1] Peru
DiedNovember 1, 2008(2008-11-01) (aged 86)
Los Angeles, California, United States
GenresExotica, world, mambo, lounge
OccupationsSinger
Years active1942–1997
 
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Yma Sumac
Yma Sumac 1953.jpg
Sumac signs an autograph after a concert in 1953.
Background information
Birth nameZoila Augusta Emperatriz Chávarri del Castillo
Also known asYma Sumac
Born(1922-09-13)September 13, 1922
Callao,[1] Peru
DiedNovember 1, 2008(2008-11-01) (aged 86)
Los Angeles, California, United States
GenresExotica, world, mambo, lounge
OccupationsSinger
Years active1942–1997

Yma Sumac (/ˈmə ˈsmæk/; September 13, 1922 – November 1, 2008) was a Peruvian soprano. In the 1950s, she was one of the most famous proponents of exotica music. She became an international success based on her extreme vocal range, which was said to be "well over four octaves"[2] and was sometimes claimed to span even five octaves at her peak.[3][4]

Early life[edit]

Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chávarri del Castillo was born on September 13, 1922,[5] in Callao, a seacoast city in Peru.[1][6][7]

Stories published in the 1950s claimed that she was an Incan princess, directly descended from Atahualpa. Her New York Times obituary reported that "the largest and most persistent fabrication about Ms. Sumac was that she was actually a housewife from Brooklyn named Amy Camus, her name spelled backward. The fact is that the government of Peru in 1946 formally supported her claim to be descended from Atahualpa, the last Incan emperor".[8]

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".[9]

Career[edit]

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[10] 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.

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.

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.

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) and Omar Khayyam (1957). 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, their dispute making news in Los Angeles.[11] They remarried that same year, but divorced again in 1965.

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, and then returned to live in Peru. 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 Bertjes" 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 culture[edit]

In 1992 Guenter Czernetzky directed 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".[12]

Vocal range[edit]

Yma Sumac recorded an extraordinarily wide vocal range of slightly over four octaves from B2 to C7 (approximately 123 to 2270 Hz).[13] 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".[14]

Critical reception[edit]

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".[8] 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".[15]

Personal life[edit]

Sumac married composer and bandleader Moisés Vivanco on June 6, 1942.[16] She had a son, Charles, in 1949.

Death[edit]

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.

Awards[edit]

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.[17]

Discography[edit]

Albums[edit]

The cover of Yma Sumac's debut album, Voice of the Xtabay (1950).

Singles[edit]

Compilations[edit]

Other[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Yma Sumac was officially born in Callao. Official Yma Sumac's Birth Certificate
  2. ^ Ellen Highstein: 'Yma Sumac (Chavarri, Emperatriz)' Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy. (Accessed August 8, 2006)
  3. ^ Clarke Fountain, "Yma Sumac: Hollywood's Inca Princess (review). Allmovie, reproduced in the New York Times. 1992. [1]
  4. ^ 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, [2]
  5. ^ Yma Súmac biography
  6. ^ Peruvian Magazine Batuta N°3 Yma Sumac "my mother gave birth in Callao". [3]
  7. ^ Alvarez-Russi, Raul (January 26, 2010). "Yma Sumac de regreso al Callao" (in Spanish). Callao.org. Retrieved December 15, 2011. 
  8. ^ a b Martin, Douglas (November 4, 2008), "Yma Sumac, Vocalist of the Exotic, Dies at 86", The New York Times, retrieved December 11, 2010 
  9. ^ Cusihuaman 2001: p. 47, 103
  10. ^ Argentina Session 1943
  11. ^ Los Angeles Times. April 24, 1957. Jack Smith. Inca-redible: Yma Sumac, Mate Stage Free-for-All
  12. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmdtJWmR9zQ
  13. ^ Suits, B.H. "Frequencies for equal-tempered scale". Michigan Tech Physics. Retrieved August 25, 2011. 
  14. ^ Secret Museum of the Air, October 6, 2002 program (5:15–5:57)
  15. ^ 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. 
  16. ^ Moisés Vivanco
  17. ^ Yma Sumac Receives Highest Peruvian Honor

External links[edit]