“I want to be remembered as the artist who made good music and made all hearts happy,” said Peruvian-born singer, composer, actress, and model Yma Sumac. A pioneer of world music, she had a five-octave range and shattered the mold of popular American music with records featuring Incan and South American folk motifs.
Born “Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chavarri de Castillo” on September 13, 1922, in Ichocán, Cajamarca, Peru, Sumac changed her name upon signing with Capitol Records in 1950. Her moniker modeled the term ima sumaq, meaning “how beautiful” in Quechua.
Released that same year, Sumac’s album “Voice of the Xtabay” garnered global attention. In 1951, Sumac appeared in the musical Flahooley, making her one of the first Latinas to perform on Broadway.
According to biographer Nicholas E. Limansky, author of Yma Sumac: The Art Behind the Legend, “Hollywood took this nice girl who wanted to be a folk singer, dressed her up, and said she was a princess.”
Playing the part, Sumac claimed to be the descendant of the last Incan Emperor, Atahualpa, and took on the persona of a glamorous “Incan Princess” for the American masses.