Yma Sumac, Peruvian-American soprano, Died at 85/86

  Dead Famous

Dead, Yma Sumac on November 1, 2008 at the age of 85 or 86, she was a Peruvian-American soprano.

Born on either September 13, 1922, or September 10, 1923, most likely in Callao, a seacoast city in Peru, her parents were Sixto Chávarri and Emilia Castillo.

Her father was born in Cajamarca and her mother was born in Pallasca.

Stories published in the 1950s claimed that she was an Incan princess, directly descended from Atahualpa.

She was the subject of a series of publicity campaigns designed to shroud her origins in mystery: was she an Inca princess, one of the chosen ‘Golden Virgins’? Whatever her heritage, what was abundantly genuine was Sumac’s four octave ranges, ascending from ‘female baritone, through lyric soprano, to high coloratura’. 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.

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

In 1946, Sumac and Vivanco moved to New York City, where they performed as the Inka Taky Trio, Sumac 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 Súmac. Her first album Voice of the Xtabay launched a period of fame that included performances at the Hollywood Bowl and Carnegie Hall.

Promotional materials highlighted Sumac’s Incan heritage, and she usually maintained an exotic appearance by donning heavy jewelry and flamboyant clothes. The focus on her background may have prompted a backlash, as an unsubstantiated rumor that Sumac was actually the Brooklynite Amy Camus (Yma Sumac spelled backward) began to spread.

However, the rumor did not keep people from wanting to hear her sing.

As the 1960s progressed, Sumac’s popularity declined. Though she sometimes gave concerts in the following decades and released an unsuccessful rock album, Miracles, in 1972, she mostly withdrew from performing. Her music continued to be heard on film soundtracks, including The Big Lebowski (1998).

The documentary Yma Sumac: Hollywood’s Inca Princess (1992) also sparked further interest in her career.

In 1992 appeared a documentary for German television entitled Yma Súmac – Hollywoods Inkaprinzessin (Yma Súmac – 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. A sample from “Malambo No.1” was used in Robin Thicke’s “Everything I Can’t Have”.