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date: 04 December 2022

Yma Sumac: The Extraordinary Peruvian Singer and Her Paradoxical Careerlocked

Yma Sumac: The Extraordinary Peruvian Singer and Her Paradoxical Careerlocked

  • Zoila S. MendozaZoila S. MendozaNative American Studies, University of California, Davis


Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chavarri del Castillo (1922–2008), best known by her artistic name, Yma Sumac, startled the world with her unique voice, beauty, and exotic persona. The Peruvian singer became a legend and an icon, while her life and career were filled with controversy and paradox in and outside of her native country. She first emerged as an acclaimed folk singer in the midst of the development of Peruvian national identity in the early 1940s and soon became recognized for her folk art in Latin America. By the end of the decade and as part of a trio directed by her manager and husband, Moisés Vivanco, she started a career in the United States that would lead to radical changes in her musical style and to the creation of a series of fantasies about her origins and identity. A prodigious live performer, she traveled around the world tirelessly, her recordings reached far and wide, and her first album, The Voice of Xtabay, has never been out of print. Yma Sumac participated in two major Hollywood films in the 1950s, and in 1960 her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was unveiled. In 2016 Sumac was posthumously honored with a Google Doodle. One of the most internationally known Peruvians, she had a problematic relationship with her own country, but fortunately, two years before her death, she was properly honored and recognized by her native country. She had a long artistic career, performing into the 1990s, but her fame reached its peak in the 1950s when she became known as the “Queen of Exotica,” performing a style of music popular in the United States after World War II.


  • Cultural History

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