Yma Sumac, the enigmatic Peruvian singer famous for her four-octave voice and wildly exotic look, passed away on November 1 in Los Angeles after a year-long battle with colon cancer. She was 86.
Born in Peru’s Ichocan Mountains with claims of being a descendent of Atahualpa (the last Incan Emperor), young Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chavarri Del Castillo dreamed of achieving musical greatness, and she was often found in the Andes singing to an “audience” of rock piles. After years of training herself to sing by mimicking the exotic birds of her native land, her dream finally came true at the age of 13 when she was called to perform on an Argentinean radio show. She later married conductor Moises Vivanco and, together with dancer Cholita Rivero, formed the group known as The Inka Taky Trio.
After touring South America in her teens and 20s, Sumac and Vivanco then moved to New York City. Sumac was spotted in a club in 1950 and signed to Capitol records, where she grabbed the spotlight with the break out success of Voice Of The Xtabay. The “Incan Princess” went on to sell millions of records worldwide. Her performances mixed folkloric melodies with a flashy, colorful, and dynamic stage presence (she loved to wear bright makeup, Indian costumes and jewelry). Also known as “the eighth wonder of the world,” Sumac's appeal was universal, attracting fans of folk, lounge/exotica, jazz, and pop. Sumac also appeared in the film Secret Of The Incas, as well as the Broadway show Flahooey in the ‘50s. She continued to perform in the ‘60s and enjoyed a revival in her music in the ‘80s and ‘90s, again performing for large crowds of adoring fans.
Sumac will be buried in Hollywood at a private location. She is survived by her three sisters and her son, Charles.