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Age85 (age at death)
Birthday 10 September, 1923
Birthplace Ichocán, Cajamarca, Peru
Died 1 November, 2008
Place of Death Los Angeles, California
Eye Color Brown - Dark
Hair Color Black
Zodiac Sign Virgo
Nationality Peruvian
Occupation Singer
Claim to Fame Vocalist with a 4.5-octave range, Whistler register (singing)
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Yma Sumac, a mystery unsolved even today, is the only singer known to possess close to a staggering 5 octave voice. While less than a handful of singers have managed to capture Sumac's high notes, none have managed to acquire those notes including Sumac's lowest registers. More amazing, is that Yma Sumac had no formal training! It has been said she is unable to read musical notes! How did this phenomenal lady with the beautiful face and extraordinary voice come to be?

Born on September 13, 1922 (official, finally, as I have held the actual birth certificate in my hands) in the high mountains of Ichocan, Peru, little Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chavarri Del Castillo, had dreams of being a great singer. However, such a dream was deemed almost impossible in Peru and especially for a"proper lady." But the girl was unstoppable. Around the age of 9 she could often be seen high atop a mountain in the High Andes singing ancient Peruvian folkloric songs, to a group of rocks, which she pretended was her audience. Entranced by the beautiful birds that sang nearby, she began to imitate them, by incorporating their high pitched sounds into her"repertoire."

Her voice matured somewhat by age 13 and local Peruvians took notice. Much to the unhappiness of her parents, she was invited to appear on Argentinean radio. Soon enough South America was quite enchanted with this amazing voice. In 1943, she would record around 16 songs in Argentina (most of which have been released on CD in the last decade).

Conductor Moises Vivanco met and later married the young lady, now renamed Imma Sumack and along with a dancer (Cholita Rivero), formed a group called "The Inka Taky Trio." Together they performed traditional Peruvian music. They had minor tours all over South America.

But both Vivanco and Imma Sumack had bigger dreams. After all, she is believed to be a direct descendant of Atahualpa, Peru's last Incan emperor!

Sumac’s mother's maiden name was Atahualpa, the same as that of the last ruler of the Incan civilization, Yma Sumac could be regarded as "a princess royal and spiritual leader of the mountain people of Peru...(occupying) a unique position in the Inca religion."

The trio moved to New York and continued performing. Americans were not prepared or particularly interested in the music, finding it a bit bizarre. But many were enchanted with Sumack's lovely face and voice. One night in a small New York club, a talent scout from Capitol Records was present. The man apparently saw great potential in this young lady. He immediately signed them to Capitol records a MAJOR American record label!

However, changes would have to be made. ‘ Imma Sumack’ would be changed once again, to 'Yma Sumac' a more glamorous spelling. The focus would be on Yma, and Vivanco would be "the man behind the Diva.” The simple "twangy" traditional Peruvian accompaniment would have to be incorporated into large and lush orchestral versions if it were to take on Universal appeal. This would be a challenge, but one the Vivanco's could meet! Now in her mid 20's Sumac's voice had reached it's unparalleled peak, and her beauty intoxicating. A now classic record, 'Voice of the Xtabay' was recorded in 1950 and sold over 100,000 copies WITHOUT major publicity!

After a massively successful concert at the Hollywood Bowl that same year, Yma Sumac would become world famous and travel the globe and become a vocal phenomenon. Sumac toured and recorded albums for the entire decade of the 50's, appeared in at least 4 films, had worldwide fan clubs and was eventually declared "the 8th wonder of the world." Major movie stars and opera singers were great fans of hers. Some of her childhood movie idols were now fans of hers!

While Sumac and her husband remained true to the ancient Peruvian language of Quechuan and Spanish, they occasionally ventured into Italian arias and songs not originally intended for vocal interpretation. Sumac performed Claire De Lune and The Magical Flute, astonishing critics and audiences into 20 minute standing ovations on numerous occasions. No other singer would have the vocal capabilities to make such arrangements possible.

In the 1961 Yma Sumac was to do two weeks of concerts in Russia. The demand for her was so great there, she stayed a staggering 6 months, and performed for royalty on many occasions. By tours end, she and husband Moises Vivanco were more than ready for [their second and final] divorce.

In the early 1970’s with the encouragement of a few fans, Yma Sumac recorded a complete album of psychedelic music, titled ‘Miracles.’ Her now infamous temperament dominated the entire project and the album was quickly pulled from record stores everywhere, once “complications arose.” This is one of the rarest of Yma Sumac memorabilia today, and is occasionally listed on Ebay. It seems to be a hit among her younger fans and continues to grow in popularity, as of this writing.

In the 1980's Sumac's career was rejuvenated by young fans all over the world wanting to experience the phenomenon for themselves. She had wildly successful sell-out tours from the mid-80’s into the 1990’s. By the mid 90's, Sumac's popularity reached even greater heights as the new term "exotica" (in correlation with what has come to be wincingly called "lounge" by today's standards) was coined and became a favorite genre among eclectic crowds of younger fans.

The millennium brought a handful of surprise personal appearances, the highlight of which resulted in Yma Sumac being awarded the Orden Del Sol of Peru in May of 2006. She traveled to accept the honor in person, and stayed two weeks, accepting other awards almost daily.

It may come as a surprise that a woman could become a legend with only 5 major albums! But with a voice like Sumac's, all you have to do is listen and you will know why. Her albums have been reissued for over 50 years, over and over, such is the demand of newer generations who discover this almost supernatural voice. Miss Sumac passed away at 86, on November 1st, 2008, in Los Angeles, CA. She was interred in Hollywood Forever Cemetery a week later.

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