Yma Sumac

Yma Sumac
Shauna Norfleet / Los Angeles Times


Yma Sumac
Music: North side of the 6400 block of Hollywood Boulevard
Born Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chavarri del Castillo on Sept. 13, 1922 in Cajamarca, Peru
Died Nov. 1, 2008 of colon cancer in Silver Lake, CA

Yma Sumac was a Peruvian-born singer whose spectacular multi-octave vocal range and exotic persona made her an international sensation in the 1950s.

Bursting onto the U.S. music scene after signing with Capitol Records in 1950, the raven-haired Sumac was known as the "Nightingale of the Andes," the "Peruvian Songbird" and a "singing marvel" with a 4 1/2-octave (she said five-octave) voice.

Sumac's first album for Capitol, "Voice of the Xtabay," soared to the top of the record charts. A handful of other albums followed during the 1950s.

With her exotic beauty, elaborate costumes and singing voice that could imitate the cries of birds and wild animals, the woman who claimed to be a descendant of an ancient Incan emperor offered Eisenhower-era audiences something unique.

During her 1950s heyday, Sumac sang at the Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall and Royal Albert Hall. She reportedly made $25,000 a week in Las Vegas.

She was featured in the 1951 Broadway musical "Flahooley" and appeared in the films "Secret of the Incas" in 1954 and "Omar Khayyam" in 1957.

In 1946, she and her husband, Moises Vivanco, moved to New York, where they performed as the Inca Taky Trio, with Vivanco on guitar, Sumac singing soprano and her cousin Cholita Rivero singing contralto and dancing.

After making her name as a solo artist, Sumac toured around the world for several years in the '60s, but her popularity in the U.S. had waned by then.

In 1971, she recorded a psychedelic rock album, "Miracles," that was not widely released, and semi-retired to Peru later in the decade — at least that's what she always said.

Sumac, however, did return to performing in 1984 at the Vine Street Bar & Grill and the Cinegrill in Hollywood. In the early 1990s, she toured in Europe and continued to perform until 1997.

"The younger generation loves the music, loves Yma," Sumac told the Tampa Tribune in 1996. "The new generation told me many times: 'Miss Yma, we love you. Your music is something. It's out of this world.' "

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