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About Yma Sumac
1922 - 2008
Yma Sumac passed away after a long illness on November 1st, 2008 at 11:00 AM in Silverlake, California.
Overview - A Brief Biography
Yma Sumac was a Peruvian singer with one of the most spectacular ranges and styles ever heard. Her given name was Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chavarri del Castillo; Ima Sumack (or Imma Sumack in other parts of South America, and even Ymma Sumack in Brazil) is her stage name, based on her mother's name. She was from Ichocán, Peru, a town high in the Andes although some reports indicate that she was actually born in or near Lima but grew up in Ichocán where her family had a ranch.

At an early age, she was 'discovered' and performed on radio, in movies and made records throughout South America. More details can be read in the 2008 book about life, her music and her career, called Yma Sumac - the Art Behind the Legend.

Recording and Film Highlights
After Yma Sumac's very early folk recordings from Argentina in 1943, she recorded throughout the '50s here in the U.S. with albums from 1950 to 1959. She also was featured in the 1951 Broadway musical Flahooley and in two Hollywood films: Secret of the Incas (1954) and Omar Khayyam (1957). There was a live album recorded and released in Bucharest, Romania in 1961 as part of her 6-month tour of the Soviet Union, and in 1971 she recorded Miracles where she was backed by a four-piece rock band. She cut one song in 1988 for a Disney compilation, then produced a "remix" CD single herself in 1991, which used some of her Mambo! material in the background, along with new instrumentation and vocals. Throughout all that, there were countless vinyl, tape and CD compilations released and many reissues.
Her Early Career
Imma Sumack
Inka Taki Trio
After having been discovered singing for her people in the Peruvian Andes, Imma Sumack studied in Lima and performed live and on the radio in Peru and other parts of South America, and made a series of folk recordings in Argentina in 1943. These recordings were released originally only as a series of 78 rpm singles in Peru and are little heard in the U.S. except for a small selection released on 10" LP in 1952. She recorded at least eighteen tracks in 1943. These early performances were done with Moisés Vivanco's group, Compania Peruana de Arte -- a group of 46 Indian dancers singers and musicians.

She and Moisés Vivanco, who were married on June 6, 1942, arrived in the U.S. in January of 1946, having disbanded the Compañía Peruana de Arte in favor of a much smaller group known as the Inca Taky Trio, with Moisés Vivanco on guitar, Yma's cousin Cholita Rivero singing contralto and dancing and Yma providing the soprano. The group had a number of lean years performing in such venues as La Parisienne delicatessen in New York's Greenwich Village and at private functions until she was introduced to the public in her first Hollywood Bowl concert. Her success after this show was not immediate but it ultimately led to her well-known recordings of the '50s which sold out almost as fast as they could be pressed.

The 1950s
Around 1954
Her first Capitol Records album in the U.S., Voice of the Xtabay, was recorded and released in 1950 and her last, Fuego del Ande was in 1959, covering such diverse styles as Inca sun worshiping (1950's Voice of the Xtabay and 1953's Inca Taqui), jazz & quasi-classical (1952's Legend of the Sun Virgin), mambo dance (1954's Mambo!, head hunter (1957's Legend of the Jivaro), jazzy Peruvian folk tunes (1959's Fuego del Ande) and even Broadway (1951's Flahooley), all done in a distinctly Hollywood style, most with full orchestra. She worked with the likes of Les Baxter, Billy May and others although contrary to what other sites say and although they met in passing, she never worked with Xaviar Cugat and he certainly didn't 'discover' her as some say.
The 1960s
1961
in Bucharest
In 1961, she toured the Soviet Union for six months singing to sell-out crowds and an album, called Recital was produced in Romania, Romania from the TV broadcast recording of the show. In 2006 Recital was reissued on Compact Disc in the U.S. under the original title and is her only 'live in concert' record issued to date, and was reissued in 2012 but any 2013 CDs or LPs are bootlegs, as is an earlier release called Yma Sumac: Live in Russia. Featured in the tour and on the recordings of it were the original "Inca Taki Trio" which was composed of Yma Sumac, Cholita Rivero (who provided backup vocals and dancing) and Moisés Vivanco on guitar. She also did a number of shows later in the '60s in the U.S., most notably at New York's Château Madrid in 1968.
The 1970s, 1980s and 1990s
Around 1972
Her next complete album, Miracles, a Rock "tour de force", was recorded in 1971 and released in the U.S in 1972 on the London Records label. After that, she spent many years living in Peru and composing many songs, which she later sang in concerts. In 1987 she also cut a track for Stay Awake, a recording of Disney songs interpreted by various modern artists. She performed in concert from time to time during the '70s in Peru and later in New York. In the '80s, she had a number of concerts both in the U.S. and abroad including at New York's The Ballroom in 1987 and several in San Francisco with shows at the Theatre on the Square among others. In 1989, she sang once again at The Ballroom in New York. March of 1990 found her playing 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 did several concerts in the summer of 1996 in San Francisco and Hollywood and two more in Montreal, Canada in July 1997 as part of the Montreal International Jazz Festival.
Her Films
She can be seen in the 1954 Paramount film Secret of the Incas and the 1957 Paramount film Omar Khayyam. The 1961 concert in Bucharest was filmed and broadcast for Romanian television. Later in the '60s she also appeared in two musical films made in Mexico lip-syncing to recorded tracks. There was also a documentary made for German television about her in 1992 called Yma Sumac: Hollywoods Inkaprinzessen (Hollywood's Inca Princess). It is not available in the U.S or in Europe. There were many concert recordings made through the years but none are available commercially.  
Voice Range
Yma's voice is reported, on various record jacket liner notes and biographies, to be anywhere from four to over five octaves. Yma herself insists that her range is five octaves. Published details of her range state that it is from B below low C to A above high C which makes it four and a half octaves.

Another source published a staff of her range in a German book some years ago. It compares, from left: a 'normal soprano'; a 'good soprano'; German coloratura Erna Sack

Normal Soprano
Good Soprano
Erna Sack (German Vocalist)
Yma Sumac
Her Later Work
In Follies

Yma Sumac completed three concerts in June and July of 1996 in San Francisco and Los Angeles. She also performed in two shows in Montreal, Canada in July 1997, and made a brief appearance signing autographs in October of 2005 at the Dia de los Muertos festival in Los Angeles.

Tributes
In early to mid May of 2006, she visited Peru to receive the country's highest honor, the Orden del Sol (Order of the Sun) medal, along with receiving many other tributes by various Peruvian government and university organizations. She was also presented with the Key to the City of Lima on May 15th.
Are Any New Releases Planned?
It is known that Yma Sumac has recorded many things through the years that have not been released as the projects were generally left uncompleted and there are also many recordings from live performances, both amateur and professional. It is our hope that this material will someday become available. There are also several new CD collections being discussed currently. Yma Sumac's other Web site, yma-sumac.com, does have some non-commercial releases available and many others can be found here in the Shopping area but many require free or paid memberships to see the entries for them.

There were many LP and Compact Disc compilations made of her music through the years and, from time to time, unreleased material appears on them. There was even a recent and welcomed release of her 1971 recordings with two previously unreleased tracks, called Yma Rocks! with different mastering and another, now out of print, of Miracles with the original mastering.

Don Pierson (Webmaster)
SunVirgin.com

This biography is intended only as an overview of Yma Sumac and her career. For more details, please read through the many other biographies written through the years. For the true story behind the origin of the Amy Camus rumor, be sure to read the Real Amy Camus Story. Back to Top