Passings: Yma Sumac

A staple of every record collector’s “bachelor pad” section, the works of Yma Sumac were weirdly calming, even when they were at their cacophonic, screeching-infused best. She passed away in Los Angeles on November 1.

Sumac was born as Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chavarri del Castillo in Peru in 1922, and released her first American album, Voice of the Xtabay, on Capitol in 1950. She claimed to have descended from Atahualpa, the last Incan emperor, and Capitol made every attempt to play up the exotic nature of her voice, her music and her appearance. She famously had a five-octave voice, capable of performing great opera, but thankfully (for us opera-indifferents) performed mostly haunting, orchestrated “exotica” works.

I have a soft spot for “exotica,” including records by Yma Sumac. Along with The Three Suns, Martin Denny, Les Baxter and Esquivel, this is the music you want to play for your cool cocktail party. How many other records do you have that were recorded by Incan princesses?

RIP Ms. Sumac.

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