Artist Profile: Peruvian Legend Yma Súmac

By Tano Factotum

Yma Súmac was born in Sept. 13, 1922 as Zoila Emperatriz Chávarri Castillo. She was worldwide known for her five octave vocal range. She was a true diva, also known as the “Incan Princess.”

She was born in El Callao, a city next to Lima, but grew up and spent her childhood in Ichocán, a district of the region Cajamarca in the north of Peru, where her father was born. There, she grew up in nature and began to imitate the birds. Her mother was descendant of Atahualpa, the last of the Inca lords (hence the “Incan Princess” moniker).

She began to sing in the church and local radio. After moved to Lima, she sang in the Teatro Segura and Teatro Municipal de Lima. She met Peruvian composer Moisés Vivanco who invited her to his folkloric group. They married in 1942. They went on tour to Argentina with great success. They performed folkloric Peruvian music. Vivanco began to change the original music and make arrangements for her voice: deep low tones and astonishing high notes.

She began to record songs in Argentina. The tours went on and they returned to Argentina, withs tops in Brazil, Chile, and Mexico.

Yma Súmac arrived to New York in 1946 and sang in Carnegie Hall two years later. From there, she moved to Los Angeles in 1950 and signed a contract with Capitol Records. Her first album, “Voice of the Xtabay,” was released in 1950.

Several tours went on across Unites States, then Europe. Yma Súmac performed at the Royal Albert Hall, where she used to sing opera arias as part of her program. There are recordings of Tosca’s “Vissi d’Arte” or her mambo version of “Der Hölle Rache,” among others.

In 1960, she received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. A year later she went to a concert in Moscow that became a tour. She performed with the Bolshoi Symphony Orchestra and ultimately appeared in 40 Russian cities including the Tchaikovsky Opera. She also gave 186 concerts in the famous “Moscow Nights.” Before she returned to America she sang in 130 concerts in Poland, Romania, and Germany.

She continued singing in several concerts across the globe including concerts in Tokyo. In 1970, she returned to the Hollywood Bowl and sang with Frank Sinatra among other artists. Billboard referred to her as the “8th Wonder of the World”.

In 2006 Yma Súmac returned to Peru thanks to cultural promoter Miguel Molinari. The Peruvian government gave her the Orden del Sol, the highest distinction of the country. She was also awarded by the Republic Congress, The Lima City Hall, and the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, the oldest university of America, founded in 1551.

Yma Súmac passes away in Los Angeles in 2008 at the age of 86. The Diva became legend. Her music is still hearing everywhere. Her version of “Gopher” was featured at the 2018 Olympic Games. James Bond last movie “No time to die” (2021) featured Yma Sumac’s “Royal Anthem”.


In the Vivanco’s song “Chuncho” Yma Súmac recreates sounds from the forest and uses her unique “triple trino” technique.

Yma Súmac performs Tosca’s “Vissi d’Arte”.


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