Yma Sumac / Sept 13, 1922 - Nov 1, 2008

Happy birthday to that Peruvian songbird with the five-plus octave vocal range, Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chávarri del Castillo, aka Yma Sumac. Not truly an Inca princess but her name does mean "beautiful" in Quechua and she became a '50s pop music icon.

She started her singing career on the radio in '42 and made her first records the following year. After moving to NYC in the late '40s she signed to Capitol and proceeded to become one of the major stars of the "exotica" craze. In the early '50s she toured Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Australia. She worked with producers Les Baxter and Billy May, making some of the best-selling records of the '50s. Appearances on Broadway and in films helped sustain her mysterious image.

The early '60s found her spending considerable time in the Soviet Union, followed by more world touring before slowing down the pace in the second half of that decade. She made a cult rock album in '71 (Miracles, check the opening track for the best of the disk). She spent most of the '70s in Peru but made an international comeback of sorts in the '80s. The renewed interest in the '90s in "exotica" music helped raise her profile and she has been sampled by hiphop groups. In 2016 (the day I typed this on her birthday) she was featured on Google's search page.

Tagged: Celebrate Icons, classic albums, exotica, Les Baxter, psych, rock, Yma Sumac

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