To me there are few recording artists who ooze 'WFMU' as much as Yma Sumac. Yma's 5 octave range could outscreech the loveliest tropical bird or simulate a rumble from the depths of a subway tunnel. Her 1950 release "Voice of the Xtabay" seduced Eisenhower America as she rose to popularity, strewing tiki huts and Andean flavor in her wake. Yma was born Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chavarri del Castillo on September 13, 1922 in Peru. Depending on what part of the Sumac legend you want to believe, she was the sixth child of an Indian mother and an Indian/Spanish father, who raised her as a Quechuan. Her performance career blossomed in regional festivals, before moving to the big city of Lima. In 1942, through her work with a performance and dance collective there, she met and married Moises Vivanco, the leader of the Compania. Four years later, Vivanco and Sumac moved with a cousin to New York, to perform as a three piece. By 1950, they were welcomed in NYC nightclubs, playing on radio and television, and a constant presence on the Borscht Belt circuit in the Catskills.
While putting her exotic stamp on the lounge music scene of the 1950's, Yma Sumac's outrageous history seemed fabricated to some fans, who in turn fabricated an equally odd rumor that suggested she was born Amy Camus, a nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn, NY. ('yma sumac' backwards...) Hollywood called, and most notably she starred opposite Charlton Heston in 1954's "Secret of the Incas". Heston was a man who knew a little about fabricating himself. He played a Mexican in Orson Welles' film "Touch of Evil", and then later would fabricate himself as a human in his high profile role as head of the NRA.
As the lounge decade turned over to peace, love, and rock and roll, Yma made one last recording in 1971. She gradually performed less frequently, and retired to the glamor of Hollywood, where she died this weekend at the age of 86.