Vintage style icon: Yma Sumac Yma Sumac was a Peruvian singer and Fifties star whose wide vocal range and exotic Peruvian background made her an international phenomenon of her time. With her striking looks and eccentric fashion style she took America by storm and was known as the ‘Peruvian songbird’. Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chávarri del Castillo was born – as far as we know- in 1922 in Ichocán, Peru. Stories published in the Fifties claimed that she was an Incan princess, directly descended from Atahualpa. She took on a stage name shortly before she left for the US in the Forties and by the time she was signed by Capitol Records in 1950 her stage name became Yma Sumac. During the Fifties, Yma Sumac produced a series of legendary 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. After Sumac performed at the Shrine Auditorium with a company of dancers, drummers and musicians in 1955, a Los Angeles Times writer observed: “She warbles like a bird in the uppermost regions, hoots like an owl in the lowest registers, produces bell-like coloratura passages one minute, and exotic, dusky contralto tones the next.” Sumac’s career slowed in the Sixties and she didn’t release another album until 1971 when she made a psychedelic rock album. It wasn’t very successful. She did however return to stage and performed until the late Nineties. She died of cancer in 2008. 2 Responses Cedar November 6th, 2009 Great article! Yma Sumac is one of my favorites. James Byrne December 22nd, 2009 Yma Sumac literally blew my mind as a young lad watching SECRET OF THE INCAS at my local cinema. Her amazing vocals combined with her exotic Andean allure made it a most unforgettable cinematic experience. We will never see her like again.