“At last a serious critical examination of the utterly unique vocalist celebrated for her “four-octave voice,” Yma Sumac! A confounding, sometimes heartbreaking, mixture of absurd show-biz hype, stunning virtuosity, and sometimes ravishing artistry, Yma Sumac was a firmly established recording artist of the folk music of her native Peru when she came to America to be “discovered.” And discovered she was-by the publicity department of Capitol Records and the “Exotica” pop music maestro Les Baxter.”
Yma Sumac, the Peruvian-born singer whose spectacular multi-octave vocal range and exotic persona made her an international sensation in the 1950s, has died. She was 86.
Sumac, who was diagnosed with colon cancer in February, died Saturday in an assisted living facility in Silver Lake, said Damon Devine, her personal assistant and close friend.
Bursting onto the American 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.
After Sumac performed at the Shrine Auditorium with a company of dancers, drummers and musicians in 1955, a Los Angeles Times writer observed: “She warbles like a bird in the uppermost regions, hoots like an owl in the lowest registers, produces bell-like coloratura passages one minute, and exotic, dusky contralto tones the next.”
Sumac’s first album for Capitol, “Voice of the Xtabay,” soared to the top of the LP charts. A handful of other albums followed during the `50s.
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 and turned down offers to sing with New York’s Metropolitan Opera.
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.
Although details of her birth date and early life vary widely, Devine said Sumac was born Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chavarri del Castillo in Cajamarca, Peru, on Sept. 13, 1922. She later said she began singing when she was about 9.
After joining Vivanco’s large group of native singers, dancers and musicians, she made her radio debut in 1942; she and Vivanco were married the same year.
In Argentina in 1943, she and Vivanco’s group recorded a series of Peruvian folk songs. By then, she was known professionally as Imma Sumack (Capitol Records later changed the spelling).
In 1946, she and her husband moved to New York City, 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 America had waned by then.
In 1971, she recorded a psychedelic rock album that was not widely released, “Miracles,” and “semi-retired” to Peru later in the decade – at least that’s what she always said.
Sumac did return to performing in 1984 at the Vine Street Bar & Grill and the Cinegrill in Hollywood. In the early ’90s, she toured in Europe and continued to perform until 1997.
The good folks at Collectors Choice have released 18 Arthur Lyman albums in their entirety as 9 two-fer CDs. Lyman has long played third wheel to Les Baxter’s groundbreaking Exotica compositions which begat Martin Denny’s genre-establishing Exotica small jazz combo of which Lyman was Denny’s protoge and offshoot. But Lyman took the genre to a different level. Over the years he explored a more sonic, transcendental, exotic version of Exotica and applied it to the hits of the day. He also explored deeper into Hawaiian and Asian music than Denny.
Amongst these nine CDs you will find subtle, quiet, vibe-led Exotica with plenty of bird calls. You will find Jazz done with an Exotica flare. And you will find Exotica style 1960s psychedelic Pop with vibes joining electric guitar!
Liner notes are written by SCRAM magazine editors David Smay and Kim Cooper. David’s recapping of Lyman’s life is used as the intro for each CD. Kim offers new content in the form of review-style notes for each CD.
Don’t be fooled by the generic cover art: each release has the cover of both LPs printed in full color. All you have to do is take the front booklet out and fold it backwards to show the cool orig LP cover art! The CD also contains a reprint of one of the LP back covers.
Tito Puente Jr. will be performing with The Florida Orchestra on Nov. 15, 17 & 18, 2007. He will be on the second half of the concert.
The first half will concert will consist of the orchestra playing Latin-tinged orchestral numbers.
On the bill will be a seldom-performed Les Baxter composition, “Mai-Tai” from his Reprise album “Soul of the Drums.” The Orchestra is playing the very arrangement that was used on the recording, courtesy of the Les Baxter Collection at the University of Arizona.
This will represent a rare opportunity to hear an authentic Les Baxter orchestral exotica arrangement performed live. If you’re anywhere near the Tampa Bay area, we would urge you attend one of these performances and to CLAP LOUDLY. We cannot promise anything, but it is our sincere hope that this will open the door for a future Les Baxter-themed concert by The Florida Orchestra.
Incidentally, Tito Puente, Jr. plays his father’s music and uses many of the charts from his Dad’s book. The rest of the night should be a lot of fun also.
Go to www.floridaorchestra.org for details on the concert.
The Les Baxter Collection was established in 2006 through the gift of Tom Eaton (Les’ grandson) and Leslie Eaton (Les’ daughter).
This collection contains Les Baxter’s personal library of career-related music and memorabilia. The bulk portion of the library consists of music arrangements written by Les for film and record dates. In addition to the music, there are also various personal and professional items from his career. Materials include photographs, printed matter, recordings and production materials.
In addition to arrangements written by Les Baxter, there are also works by Albert Harris, Hall Daniels, Bill Loose, and Frank Comstock.
Robert Drasnin is recording Voodoo 2, the follow up to the highly influential Voodoo, released by Tops Records in 1959. Although Voodoo was in fact the only Exotica record made by Drasnin in his long and varied career in music, it is considered a classic of the Exotica genre, and it is truly one of the finest examples of what this musical style sought to achieve in the 1950s and 1960s.
Re-issued on CD by Dionysus during the recent Exotica revivalist movement, exposure to the original Voodoo by a new generation has resulted in overwhelming demand for more. After a unanimously enthusiastic response to a live performance in 2005, Mr. Drasnin was delighted at the opportunity to go back into the studio to create a follow-up to his singular masterpiece, almost five decades later.
Although the record will be released by Dionysus Records in Spring of 2007, the recording is being paid for out of Mr. Drasnin’s own pocket.
Augie Colon, percussionist and the voice behind the exotic, jungle sounds of Martin Denny’s 1956 hit song, “Quiet Village,” died Friday in Honolulu. He was 76.
“This marks the passing of a giant, as far as I’m concerned,” Denny said last night of the talented, charismatic man who walked into his life nearly 50 years ago. Phyllis Uilani Kaahanui, Colon’s wife of 30 years, said Colon died at The Queen’s Medical Center of complications from diabetes.
Two reliable sources inform us that the rumor about Yma Sumac’s death is not true. To quote her former secretary Sara Cloudwater: “Madame Sumac is alive and well. She is planning on doing some new recordings which should come as welcome news to her fans.”