1922 Sept 13 - Zoila Emperatriz Chavarri Castillo (no "Augusta" is on her birth certificate) is born in Callao, Peru to Emilia del Castillo and Sixto Chavarri. Her mother was Peruvian, her father Peruvian and Spanish. She is the youngest of three sisters and two brothers. Her handwritten birth certificate found in her personal archives says Sept 13, 1922. As the number 13 was considered bad luck in those times, the date was changed and September 10 appears in later documents (as early as her first passport in 1943). As a young girl, Sumac was moved to Cajamarca where the father was born and owned land. The family also owned land in Ichocan and Ancash (a large farm and several houses). The parents are well respected in the community, and the 6 kids are looked after by the mother and nannies.
Sumac's mother was a descendant of Atahualpa, who was the last Inca emperor at the time of the Spanish invasion of Peru. Inca legend provides that the royal line is passed on through the youngest child, due to the acquired wisdom and experience of the other siblings before her. Sumac was considered an Inca princess long before she arrived in North America and achieved international fame, as seen in hundreds of her earliest news clippings. In May of 1946, the Consul General of Peru declared:
"I hereby certify that to the best of my knowledge, and in accordance with the assertions of authorities on the history of the Incas and on Peruvian history in general, whose names will be furnished upon request, Imma Sumack is a descendant of the Inca Atahualpa, her mother being Emilia Atahualpa, direct descendant of The Last Emperor of Peru.”
1935 Enters Catholic School, after being privately tutored from age 5 .
1939 Sings in church and religious ceremonies; family moves to Lima.
1940 Graduates high school; sings in local festivals.
1941 Chosen to sing as soloist in the Inti Rayme Festival for an alleged 25,000 people at the Pompe de Amancaes, a natural (outdoor) amphitheater, where locals are astonished at her vocal abilities. Immediately after this performance, she is recommended for a scholarship in Lima at the Institute de Santa Teresa (directly affiliated with the University of Lima). After an audition, she is accepted. She studies psychology, which would fascinate her for the rest of her life. She meets Moises Vivanco at this audition. Walt Disney, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and singer Grace Moore meet the young singer everyone is talking about while visiting South America. Moore and Disney both offer to promote her should she ever come to the Unites States. In October she performs in Peru's beautiful Teatro Municipal de Lima.
1942 Joins Compañia Peruana de Arte, a music group formed by Moises Vivanco. She chooses the name Imma Sumack for her radio debut, to avoid wrath of disapproving parents who would be displeased she was singing instead of studying. At this time it was suggested by many that she go to Italy to study Bel Canto, but she is not interested. Parents discover “Imma Sumack” during a live radio performance and are not pleased. Support from other family members and the public eventually convinces parents it is Imma's destiny. She marries Moises Vivanco and travels to Argentina and achieves great success. Name of group is changed to Conjunto Folklorico Peruano and they tour. Argentina brings huge success and Sumack makes the first of many magazine covers.
1943 Records 23 songs on the Odeon label in Argentina. Goes to Brazil as “Imma Sumack with Conjunto Folklorico Peruano” and achieves massive recognition via several appearance at the prestigious URCA in Rio. Magazines there begin to feature only Imma Sumack and not so much the others in the group. She also performs on Radio Tupi. Returns to Argentina to huge successes. She is referred to as “the bird who turned into a beautiful woman” and “the Inca princess” in newspapers and magazines.
1944 Returns to huge fanfare in Brazil. Is part of a show Vogue 1944, taking place on inauguration night of the legendary Hotel Quitandinha. She notoriously dresses as Lucrezia Borgia for this event. The glamorous side of Sumack's persona blossoms this second visit. She again sings on Radio Tupi, makes several magazine covers. In Bolivia, she and husband Moises Vivanco encounter Yolana Rivero, a locally known singer and dancer. She will remain in their lives for the rest of her life as both friend and foe to Sumac. A film role in Pal' Otro Lao in Argentina and the sole role in a theater production titled El Sotano de la Quintrala in Chile will follow.
1945 Sumack is personally invited by then president of Mexico Manuel Camacho to perform at the famous Palacio de Bellas Artes (Maria Callas would be there 5 years later). It is a wild success and Imma, husband Moises and Yolanda Rivero (who has now changed her first name to "Cholita") have now become the Inka Taky Trio. The Mexican media refers to the Diva as “the exotic Inca Princess.” The trio performs in concerts, festivals, and on radio and makes headlines of every newspaper. Magazines have extensive pictorial layouts of Imma Sumack. Mexico is in love with her and she them, and they compare her to predecessors Garbo, Dietrich, Maria Felix and Heddy Lamar. They also take note of Cholita Rivero. For some performances they go by Compania Folklorica. They stay in Mexico for the rest of the year.
1946 The trio arrives in North America for the first time ever. New York. They stay at the famous Waldorf Astoria on Park Avenue in Manhattan. They are stunned at the drastic difference between North and South America and are not celebrated. Sumack, a Diva by now is not amused, but husband Moises Vivanco soothes her agitation and convinces her to play several small venues. Unable to afford living at the Waldorf, they move to an apartment on Park Ave. Unable to pay that for much longer, they end up in Greenwich Village on 16 Perry street. The Diva learns how to do her own laundry and attempts cooking for the fist time ever, much to her displeasure. Neighbors are completely stunned at the otherworldly voice echoing in the hallways during at home rehearsals. Money becomes scarce and the trio resorts to performing anywhere, from business conventions to hospital recovery rooms, for military servicemen, and even in a Jewish delicatessen.
1947 The trio receives its first bad review ever from a small Spanish Ballet event. Sumack's voice is said to have “little musical style or quality to speak of.” Eventually, in Washington DC, a prestigious offer comes by way of a Pan American Union concert. A Washington Times critic is blown away by Sumack's beautiful voice and asks“what's the matter with The Met?”
Grace Moore, who in 1941 had offered to help a very young Imma Sumack should she ever come to America, is tragically killed in a place crash.
1948 A leading theatrical agent tells Sumack she needs to dress "sexier more Spanish" and learn American songs. She begins shrieking at the man in Spanish “you idiot! I am Imma Sumack! Not some small-time novelty act!”
The trio eventually secures a noteworthy gig with a large number of other South American folk singers at the legendary Carnegie Hall. While they stand out, still nothing big happens for them. To the Diva's great horror Cholita becomes pregnant... from Moises Vivanco. She is completely devastated at the betrayal of the two people closest to her. She wants to go back to South America to be with her parents. Vivanco convinces her, after weeks of tearful pleading, to stay. Seeing what pregnancy was like up close, Sumack becomes glad it wasn't her in such condition, but the relationship is scarred for life. In Latin culture a mother must never be separated from her child. Therefore Cholita would stay in the life of Yma Sumac until Cholita's death 34 years later. She would become known as "Aunt Yola" to the child. To avoid scandal should they ever become internationally famous, it is decided that Imma would be mother. By mid 1948 money is so bad that Vivanco goes into the Peruvian tuna importation business with a friend. It fails. He becomes very depressed.
1949 Musical offers begin to come in. The trio has a very important color photo shoot. In one shot Vivanco is seen looking adoringly at Cholita - and she him - as an unaware Sumack is forced to strategically place her arm to hide Cholita's very pregnant belly.
The child is born in February and named Carlos, a name that would later change. The trio lives a very strange life at this time, Sumack stoically adapting to the reality of the new addition. A somewhat prestigious engagement at the posh Blue Angel supper club, known for promising and highly fashionable acts, would change everything. A Capitol Records talent agent was in the audience having come to see another act and was greatly impressed with the beautiful Imma Sumack. He meets her backstage and requests she make a few demo tapes. They add a Cuban musician who makes important changes in their sound and the tapes are recorded and sent to Los Angeles. They perform in Cuba for a very successful month, then return to New York for a very important performance on the We the People TV program. Immediately Vivanco changes their name to Imma Sumack and the Inca Taky Trio. They are such a success on the show they are invited to be on the Arthur Godfrey Show, as well. Twice! A representative of the extremely well known William Morris Agency sees one of the performances and decides Capitol Records needs to hurry up and sign these people. But Capitol is concerned about what to do with such an unusual trio in that they are considered “too ethnic” at the time.
1950 The trio moves to Los Angeles (Hollywood), California. Their first residence is the famous Knickerbocker Hotel. The name "Imma Sumack" now becomes a more glamorous "Yma Sumac." Capitol decides, to much upset, that it is only interested in the lead singer, and not husband Moises Vivanco or Cholita Rivero. While they will be given credit for their part and be included in all future publicity - the focus is decidedly on Yma Sumac. Along with Les Baxter and a full studio orchestra culled from musicians at MGM, Paramount, Warner Bros and Fox Studios, Voice of the Xtabay is recorded. Publicity is difficult for Yma Sumac as there has never been anyone like her. They go with Inca princess, her obvious beauty, ancestry, and of course the —now more mature and refined — extraordinary voice. Five years are knocked off her age. Her overall persona is not necessary to change, as her evolution has been the result of her own natural desire and had begun long before North America and Capitol Records. A huge promotional concert is arranged at the legendary Hollywood Bowl with the orchestra to be conducted by the revered Arthur Fiedler. It is an enormous success and Voice of the Xtabay sells over a million copies its first year alone. It remains one of the very few albums in recorded music history that has never gone out of print. Yma Sumac is catapulted into international fame.
1951 Stars in a Broadway production called Flahooley, with co-star Barbara Cook. While Sumac is said to be the first Latina in Broadway, this is not true. Carmen Miranda and Diosa Costello precede her. Her small part, as as Arabian princess, ends up being the main draw, as the show itself is not a hit. Recording for Legend of the Sun Virgin begins. Vivanco becomes over-protective at this time fearing others are more qualified at managing Sumac and the direction of her career. He is in charge of her finances, however. Strangely, he feels it is best she be promoted as a beautiful woman of great talent who is not married, despite earlier reports already stating that they were. Sumac plays the prestigious Cotillion Room in New York City for $10,000 a week. Every night is packed to capacity. The Coconut Grove follows, its capacity of 960 seats filled each night. Sumac buys a large home in the exclusive Cheviot Hills area of Los Angeles. She will live there until 1969. The absurd Amy Camus rumor starts about this time and would annoy her for the rest of her life. In fact it is still brought up today.
1952 Legend of the Sun Virgin is released, and she also records two single tracks "Babalu" and "Wimoweh", both of which are well received. She is making $25,000 a week in Las Vegas and appears on The Frank Sinatra Show as a special guest. His audience adores her and she is asked back but is unable to, due her hectic schedule. She tours England and plays London's famed Royal Albert Hall. All 8000 seats are filled, with 2000 willing to stand. 5000 were turned away. Vivanco is not comfortable with Sumac's agents, managers, secretaries and conductors. A slight tug-o-war begins with Sumac in the middle. She is confused and often does not know what to do about this. She travels to Paris and plays the famed Alhambra and the Lido and tours through Germany as well. Back in the U.S, she plays the enormously popular Mocambo night club in Hollywood where she is amazed to find that many of her childhood idols are big fans.
1953 Inca Taqui is released. A track titled "Chuncho" (Forest Creatures) astonishes the record buying public and will amaze people for decades to come. Live performances of the song included Sumac's spoken introduction (in much improved English) recalling her childhood and the influence of birds and other wild creatures on her music. Sumac makes her first return to Peru since her 1946 departure. She is met by many thousands of people waiting on the street. During this visit she will perform in Machu Picchu and a huge parade is held in her honor. It is a very sentimental visit for her. She plays Montreal's high-society nightclub Sans Souci where she breaks previous records set by Edith Piaf. The Diva adds an extraordinary never-before attempted vocal version of "Clair de Lune" and a few operatic arias to her repertoire. She plays New York's Lewisohn Stadium to an adoring crowd who will not let her leave the stage between encores, such is their excited reaction. Filming for Secret of the Incas begins at Paramount Studios. Sumac travels to Italy for the first time for 2 weeks of concerts and meets Maria Callas. They chat briefly (and excitedly), like childhood girlfriends, as wide-eyed onlookers eavesdrop.
1954 A massive American and European tour begins, starting with Carnegie Hall in New York. A return to Royal Albert Hall, as well as 20 other concert dates, will take place in England and Ireland. She plays the deep south in the United States and is appalled by the segregation many concert-goers are subjected to and objects angrily to theater owners. She gives a second show especially for those on the receiving end of the hostile adversity. There are concert dates in most of the 50 states, including two returning dates at Carnegie Hall. All dates are full theatrical concert performances. Vivanco is responsible for creating the exotic and colorful look of the stage, complete with Peruvian backgrounds, props and dazzling saturated lighting. A simple white spotlight is used for operatic arias "O Mio Babbino Caro" and "Vissi d'Arte." Secret of the Incas is released, and her latest album Mambo! is released, where she backed by Billy May and his band.
1955 Concert tour continues and Sumac plays Symphony Hall in Boston. Mambo! sells extremely well. In July Yma Sumac becomes an American Citizen. Peru is not pleased. Vivanco does not become a citizen. The joy of success is brought to a screeching halt when news breaks that Vivanco is the father of twins with Sumac's 20 year old American secretary. The Diva is completely devastated and a public scandal ensues. The news makes headlines and gossip columns all over the world. A press conference takes place and Vivanco denies the allegations. Sumac immediately has documents made and notarized stating that neither spouse is responsible for the other financially in the case of divorce. Despite this extraordinary personal turmoil, concert dates must be honored. Sumac plays the beautiful Cotillion Room in New York City for 14 weeks. An extraordinary Mambo version of Mozart's "Queen of the Night" aria from The Magic Flute is introduced and wows audiences. Sumac's two dancers are dressed in costumes designed by Edith Head.
1956 Sumac attends the glamorous gala of the opening of Capitol Record's new building in Hollywood. Archival film footage shows her radiant despite her catastrophic personal life. She performs on The Ernie Kovac's Show and also The Patti Page Show. An appearance on The Jackie Gleason Show and an acting part on the TV show Climax! will close out the year.
1957 Legend of the Jivaro is released, her 5th album for Capitol records. Unfortunately the conclusion of the 1955 Vivanco paternity case makes headline news again, and Vivanco is indeed declared the father of twins. He is ordered to pay $500 a month child support. It is also discovered that Vivanco, being in charge of his and his famous wife's finances, has never paid taxes for 7 years. By now the strain is too much for Sumac and he seeks a separation. Again, however, it is decided the show must go on and Sumac agrees to one month of hows in Las Vegas in the Venus Room. It is a great success. Immediately upon her return home she files for divorce. The humiliating paternity suit, combined with the destruction of her finances, and escalating verbal abuse by Vivanco in both private and in public, has rendered marriage to Vivanco intolerable. A huge brawl breaks out in the Sumac-Vivanco home between Yma, Vivanco, Hollywood's notorious private detective Fred Otash, Cholita Rivero, as well as a house guest and fellow performer Esmilla Zavallos. Unfortunately cameras are everywhere. The Inca princess persona is now tainted, as the public sees her as having the same problems they do. Sumac stars in Omar Khayyam demonstrating incredibly beautiful vocals, but in a part much too small for her talents. It is decided she will continue to work musically with Vivanco and they tour Greece and Paris, and for the first time, Tel Aviv . Close to 3000 people line up for tickets in the early morning of the first Tel Aviv performance. She announces she has the Asiatic flu and after 3 shows, the rest are canceled. Post engagement complications with Israeli concert promoters, the IRS, non-payment to an aggressive Fred Otash, and scandal magazine stories have exhausted her.
1958 Divorce is finalized. A few dates in Cuba at the prestigious Casino Parisien are all that takes place professionally this year, apart from a film appearance in Musica de Siempre. The film stars Sumac, Edith Piaf, Tongolele and other memorable artists.
1959 Her father dies. Fuego del Ande is released and will be her last album with Capitol Records. It is her first stereo album, and is very different from her past albums. It is well received in South America. "La Molina" and "Virgenes del Sol" become the best known tracks. She tours Brazil with great nostalgia, remembering how well they received her in 1943 and 44, and stops briefly in Peru for a concert. There are rumors of a remarriage between Yma and Vivanco, and although they lead the public to believe it is true (for professional reasons) it is in fact not true. Sumac parts ways with Capitol Records and spends the rest of the year in Spain without Vivanco and their son. She needs alone time for the first time in her life. In December of this year another Vivanco sex scandal emerges in worldwide newspapers, when an angry 22 year old Spanish would-be dancer he has lured to America with the promise of "great Yma Sumac style fame" discovers he only wanted sex. She is left abandoned at an airport after having paid for her own suggested nose job. Vivanco had claimed he was owner of a major film studio and had "made Judy Garland a star." The end result was Maria Rosa Aragon suing him for $16,000.
1960 Yma Sumac's star on the legendary Walk of Fame is unveiled right in the heart of Hollywood on the northeast corner of Wilcox Ave. She stars in the film Las Canciones Unidas. In need of very large sums of money to pay off the tax evasion Vivanco has committed, she, Vivanco and Cholita prepare for what will become a legendary tour of the Soviet Union. It is to be a 4 week engagement but will last a staggering 6 months due to her popularity. The trio arrive in the Soviet Union in late 1960. Sumac is treated like royalty. She will perform with the Bolshoi Symphony Orchestra.
1961 The tour is an enormous success and Sumac travels by private jet. She sings "Moscow Nights" in Russian as war heroes tear off their medals and throw them at her feet. She is deeply touched by this gesture. She performs in 40 Russian cities, including at the Tchaikovsky Opera House where spectators release white doves at her curtain call. She gives 10 concerts there and fills the 12,000 seats nightly. She is presented to Nikita Khrushchev, and revered composers Dmitri Shostakovich and Aram Khatchaturian are in attendance at a performance. She spends time with celebrated dancers Galina Ulanova and Maya Plisetskaya. She intertwines Verdi, Mozart and Wagner with her Peruvian repertoire and closes each night with "Moscow Nights." In total she gives 186 concerts for nearly 20 million people. Before she leaves, she gives an additional 130 concerts in Romania, Poland, and Germany. In Czechoslovakia she gives 10 concerts for a total of 300,000 people. Vivanco has an affair with a young Russian, further dismantling the likelihood that he and Sumac ever remarried in 1959.
1962 Sumac returns home to Los Angeles and must face the fact musical tastes have changed since 1959 when she parted with Capitol Records. The comical Yma Dream written by Thomas Meehan is written in The New Yorker magazine. Anne Bancroft will perform it on her television show in 1970 to much acclaim.
1963 The famed Mikado Room in Tokyo will be Sumac's first 1963 venture. She has 2 and a half months of performances there with a huge, colorful stage of Peruvian Exotica. She finds time to perform for a women's organization between shopping sprees buying huge and very ornate Japanese furniture to be shipped to her Los Angeles home. Before she leaves she performs special benefit concerts for the remaining victims of the atom bomb. In July she travels to Germany for a few benefit and TV performances. Both she and Marlene Dietrich perform in a special program for Unicef. Yma is stunned to learn that Dietrich is a big fan, considering she has been a lifelong fan of the screen legend.
1964 Sumac performs on The Hollywood Palace TV show where she performs "Inca Love Song" and "Tumpa." Her voice is in top form. Footage of this performance can be seen here. Always looking forward and being interested in what's new, she decides it's time to abandon her Incan repertoire. From now on she will sing in English, Spanish and Italian, and add "Clair de Lune" and "Moscow Nights" as well.
1965 A nostalgic return to the Hollywood Bowl after 15 years for a gala called South America Fiesta kicks off 1965. She visits Peru to see her mother and give a few concerts. Things go terribly wrong with the Peruvian public. She is accused of “Americanizing” Peruvian music. Local newspapers lambaste her and Vivanco, calling them "inauthentic." Her American citizenship is mentioned. She is offended by the sudden controversy and does not return to Peru for 8 years. But before she exits Peru she tells newspapers that she was never romantically involved with Vivanco, that he was "only ever a musical collaborator." This startling statement makes headlines. It also leads the public to conclude that they are getting a second divorce - when in fact, they had never remarried to begin with.
By this time she has performed in every corner of the world.
1966 Singers, musicians and composers from all over the world arrive for the 'First International Festival of the Popular Song' in Brazil. Yma Sumac, Maysa, Marlene Dietrich, Amalia Rodrigues, Les Baxter, Maurice Chevalier and many more are in attendance representing their respective countries of origin.
1967 Appears at Bimbo's in San Francisco.
1968 She and Vivanco return to Japan and the beautiful Mikado Room for a series of successful performances. Despite this success, the years of deep resentment for Vivanco's betrayals, controlling nature, and the seemingly unending tax debt, have brought her to a breaking point. This time, both the personal and professional relationship must come to an end. Upon her return to Los Angeles, Sumac is awarded the Golden Disc of Hollywood Award for Best Latin American singer in America. Vivanco moves to Spain and they never see each other again. Her first [professional] venture alone is to Sydney, Australia where she performs at Chequers. Reviews stated that it was“an experience to remember.” She sings at the new and popular Chateau Madrid in New York. She closes out the year singing 2 songs on The Rosie Grier Show. She fires new management she had briefly. This action will become a pattern with her from now on. Fortunately her newly troubled professional life coincides with a newly acquired social life, her first as a completely independent woman. She does not feel particularly shy or awkward, in that her new crowd is made up of other middle aged women and their husbands, who are delighted to have the great Yma Sumac as a friend. She enjoys their company and is perfectly fine being the center of attention at all dinner parties.
1969 Yma Sumac sells her house with a very heavy heart, as there were many memories there, both the glorious and the heartbreaking and so much in between. She performs 2 songs on The Della Reese Show. She becomes overwhelmed with having to multi-task and manage every detail of a performance on her own. There is more hiring and firing of management and possible record producers. She is now considered “difficult to work with” in the industry and that description will follow her for the rest of her career.
1970 Twenty years after her first career launching concert, the Diva returns to the Hollywood Bowl with Frank Sinatra, Tony Martin, Ricardo Montalban (whom she was very fond of), Charlton Heston and Dionne Warwick. The program is called Nosotros. She has invited all of her new friends who are excited to go backstage and congratulate her and meet the other stars of their generation.
1971 Sumac records her first album in 12 years, titled Miracles (released by London Records) with the help of three men who are mega-fans. As with her first album 21 years earlier, she works again with Les Baxter. Complications arise as egos clash. Her voice is in top form and she is especially pleased with her coloratura. She is not pleased, however, with the album cover. It is not the photo image of her she had chosen, but an artist's rendering of her, small and in a corner. She is not aware that the record has already been pressed and the cover printed.
1972 Miracles is released despite escalating infighting. Full page ads run in Billboard magazine referring to the Diva as “the 8th Wonder of the World.” Other ads feature her in a Jesus-like-pose with “The Second Coming” in large white letters above her. She is pleased with the ads but becomes enraged when she sees Les Baxter credited with having created all of her past successes, and that his name is beside every track on the album itself. She feels her trademark improvisations should have been credited as well. She sues the record company. Sumac stars in Fol-de-Rol on television, playinig a Sun Goddess and later a witch. She performs "Classical Gas" and costars with Cyd Charisse, Mickey Rooney, Totie Fields, Ann Southern and Rick Nelson. It was hoped this appearance would help promote the new record, but instead the Miracles album is withdrawn. However, it becomes a huge cult favorite among vinyl record collectors for decades to come.
1973 She returns to Peru to visit her ailing mother and relatives. She agrees to a series of concerts. She is met with decided coolness after the 1965 controversy.
1974 She returns home to Los Angeles briefly, then, somewhat surprisingly, goes to New York for a radio interview called Whatever Became of? Despite the decidedly negative reception of her visit months before, she returns to Peru to be near her ailing mother. While there, she takes part in a Peruvian festival. On a TV appearance Sumac becomes annoyed at too many questions about Vivanco and walks off the set. After the show, en route to her mother's house, she is stunned when a group of young Peruvians begin to throw rotten vegetables at the vehicle in which she's departing. They feel she has done nothing for them and feel she has not represented Peru to their liking. Fed up, she snaps "had it not been for me, no one would have even heard of Peru!" This time she will not return for 32 years. In the coming years...Peruvians forget her. Her mother, Emilia Chavarri, dies this year in Lima.
1975 Gives two enormously successful concerts at New York's Town Hall. Months later she plays the Chateau Madrid, also in New York, also a success. She is in fine form and convinced this is a new beginning. Fans adore her and she them. But she is not so loving toward anyone she works with. She is demanding, stubborn, and argumentative, which has unfortunately become synonymous with her name by this time. Inexplicably, despite her two recent successes, she returns home to Los Angeles and begins what will become years of solitude.
1976 Yma Sumac has completely disappeared from public eview. The son is sent to Europe to live with his father after years of reckless behavior and they will only ever see each other again once (possibly twice). Cholita remains but lives in her own home. The Diva is left entirely to her own devices, with no professional prospects. She will later call this time period “semi-retirement.” Contrary to popular belief she is in Los Angeles the entire time she is out of the public eye. She was never “resting in Peru.”
1980-1981 Sumac decides she needs to reunite with nature and the animal kingdom she had sung so much about, and spent so much time with in her earlier years. She discovers the Wildlife Waystation in the Angeles National Forest where she will spend a great deal of time with founder Martine Colette caring for many different animals. Personal photos from the time show the Diva holding possum while they receive vitamin shots, as well as walking
among giant tigers and having lunch with an ocelot on her lap (all the while in full Sumac makeup!)
1982 On July 19 Cholita Rivero dies of stage 5 ovarian cancer at age 60 (in Los Angeles). Ironically, in the end of it all, the woman she betrayed 32 years before is the only one who takes care of her in her final months (and completely by herself). During these years away, unknown to Yma Sumac, she has become a cult figure and her vinyl records collectible. The New Wave, punk, and goth crowd find her to be a kindred spirit, although they assume she is dead.
1984 The Diva tests the waters of stepping back into the public eye. She gives an interview to a Los Angeles weekly newspaper (she makes the cover) with the headline "Return of the Legendary Sun Virgin." She seems to embellish her life story with a whole host of inaccuracies, thus reinventing much of her past. The scandals of her ex-husband are now decades old and long forgotten. She can start anew with her story as she sees fit. Not ready to jump in head first, she agrees to a series of performances at a well known jazz venue where Nina Simone, Eartha Kitt and Etta James have played, called Vine Street Bar & Grill. It is a far cry from Mocambo or Carnegie Hall, (and certainly the Tchaikovsky Opera House!) she has been accustomed to, but it would do for now. She is pleased to discover there are lines of fans all the way around the block for each of her 3 performances. Newspaper reviews are mostly positive, with only one noting that she occasionally gives her musicians a “sharp glare” if they are not playing to her satisfaction. This will definitely not be the last time in the coming years! She gives a BBC interview for the much loved Desert Island Discs. She has decided her "official" story is that she had been “semi-retired and resting in Peru for 15 years after traveling the world and working so hard.”
1985 Sumac returns to Vine Street for a handful of performances where she introduces many of her new compositions in English, and sings some of her songs from her Capitol Records years. Many die-hard young fans attend every performance. Variety says “Visually as well as vocally, Sumac came across as larger than life, a kind of south-of-the-border Mae West – haughty, friendly, ironic and sexy.”
1986 Belinda Carlisle's music video "Mad About You" features Yma Sumac's Mambo! album cover and sparks much curiosity.
1987 Things suddenly pick up very quickly. She plays a hugely successful 3 week engagement at New York's Ballroom. She breaks all previous records there. Newspapers, magazines and television news stations are eager to get to her for interviews and cover the show. She lands an appearance on The David Letterman Show. A legion of young misfits and artists are enamored with Yma Sumac and have found their muse. They are lined up along side her ever-loyal gay fans, curiosity seekers, fans of decades past, and vocal critics. So many people are turned away, that two shows a night become necessary, as well as adding two more weeks of shows. At last...those taxes were paid!
1988 Sumac's recording of "I Wonder" (a song from Disney's Sleeping Beauty) is released on an album titled Stay Awake. She is asked back to The Ballroom but is furious and insulted when it is suggested she pay for costumes, extravagant sets, and all musicians. Added to her outrage was being asked to “perform more of her Capitol recordings.” She angrily lets them know that that music is for full orchestra, not a supper club. She rejects the offer.
1989 Returns to New York's Ballroom after her requirements are met in full. On one of the nights she judges an Yma Sumac lookalike contest and is intrigued as to which contestants were male and which were female. Next she makes what will be her last visit to Brazil to give a concert for the 'Latin American Memorial.' She will speak with fond memories of Brazil for the rest of her life remembering how Brazilians propelled her career in 1943 and 44. She is booked for shows at the Hollywood Roosevelt, and although a historic and beautiful establishment, the performance area is far beneath what an artist of her caliber deserves. A Paris event for the 'Eiffel Tower's 100th Anniversary' uses a song of Sumac's without her permission and a three-way fight between her, Capitol Records and Eiffel Tower promoters ensues.
The Diva poses for famed photographer Greg Gorman for an L.A. Eyeworks ad. Six months later she performs in Brussels for the televised New Years Eve event Gala Van de Gouden Bertjes.
1990 The L.A. Eyeworks ad appears in Interview magazine. Yma Sumac plays the role of Heidi in the theater production of Follies with Dorothy Lamour and Juliet Prowse. She makes concert and TV appearances in Brussels, Paris, and Holland.
1991 A modern dance track "Mambo Confusion" is released in Germany. It is almost immediately recalled, as in addition to new vocals, small clips from Sumac's 1954 Capitol record were also used - without Capitol's permission. She performs concerts and does television appearances in Germany and France. An Yma Sumac documentary begins filming. Sumac refuses to have any part in it and calls friends and relatives demanding they do the same. The camera crew travels to Peru, the United States and elsewhere.
1992 The documentary Yma Sumac: Hollywood's Inca Princess is released on German television. While distancing herself from the documentary, Sumac does return to Germany for concerts and television appearances this year. An infamous walk-out happens on an obnoxiously camp TV program that is clearly beneath the dignity of an artist like Yma Sumac. While singing, the Diva happens to catch a glimpse of two audience members rudely conversing. She mistakes it for laughter and disrespect and walks out, despite the absurdly attired show host trying to convince her she was mistaken. Viewers wonder who on earth booked her for such a low-end TV program. She returns to France and sings at the Printemps de Bourges Festival.
1993 A great short French documentary titled La Castafiore Inca is made for French television. Sumac decides to cooperate with this one and is in fine spirits. Via a recorded interview, she narrates the program. In October, Sumac is invited to Miami to give a lecture (that must have been interesting!) and perform three sold out concerts. She looks decidedly beautiful and enjoys herself. The audience loves her. Back in Los Angeles she receives the Diamond Halo Award for her contributions to musical entertainment on stage and TV and in motion pictures.
1995 To the delight of Sumac fans Rev-Ola Records releases the CD Voice of the Xtabay and Other Exotic Delights featuring previously unreleased and unheard Capitol recordings.
1996 All of Yma Sumac's classic Capitol records are released on CD. She has a record launch signing at legendary Tower Records on the Sunset Strip in L.A. Fans of all ages and races show up making it the second largest crowd ever for a Tower signing (Marilyn Manson was #1 largest). She gives a concert in June at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, and another at the mega-hip venue House of Blues (in West Hollywood). Again, all races and ages show up and are incredibly enthusiastic. A resurgence of 1950's Exotica has swept the nation and Yma Sumac is the undisputed Queen of it.
1997 Receives a Life Achievement Award at a ceremony held at the Wilshire Ebell in Los Angeles. Paramount loans their print original of Secret of the Incas for the event. Rev-Ola records releases Mambo and More! with yet more previously unreleased Capitol tracks included. Sumac gives another record signing to celebrate the release of her newly released CD's at the Virgin Megastore in Montreal, Canada. She performs what will be her last ever concert at the Montreal Jazz Festival.
1998 Moises Vivanco dies. Yma is pensive upon the discovery. For the rest of her life she will delight in telling her handful of intimates how he begged for her forgiveness in his very last moments, writhing in pain. No one is sure of the story's accuracy. The film The Big Lebowski uses "Ataypura" in its soundtrack.
2001 Sumac's "Bo Mambo" plays in the extremely popular TV series Tales of the City. “I love this song,” Olympia Dukakis says in the scene.
2004Yma Sumac's official website (not to be confused with an official webpage, for which another site exists and is great for date references and extensive discography) is launched and she donates unheard music to its MUSIC PAGE. It was created as a way for fans to have more regular updates on the Diva's projects and rare offers.
2005 Yma Sumac makes her first public appearance in 7 years at an autograph singing. Jane Russell is there. It is suggested they should meet. “She must come to my table” Sumac responds. Karen Black is also there, as well as the remaining Munchkins from the Wizard of Oz. She travels to Florida for the Hukilau convention with Bettie Page photographer Bunny Yeager. She is confused as to why she is invited, unaware the 'tiki crowd' adores her as the Queen of Exotica. Later in the year she has another signing at Hollywood Forever. It is hastily planned by distant relatives of Vivanco who appear out of nowhere. The beginnings of dementia have set in, and the Diva, though still very strong, has to be looked after at this point in her life. Her assistant calls her manager and together they rush to the event. A huge crowd is there. Sumac signs endless autographs and poses for photos, as the crowd grows larger. Eventually she has to leave — as the crowd does not diminish.
2006 A young Peruvian fan writes a letter to the Peruvian government suggesting it is time they recognize her as a Peruvian treasure. They agree. She is quite elderly now, but makes the journey nonetheless. She is worked very hard for 2 straight weeks, daily. She sees her sisters for the first time in decades. She does not recognize the Peru she once knew. She receives endless awards, the most important being the Orden del Sol, given to only the most prominent Peruvians. Fortunately her failing memory does not allow her to remember past Peruvian conflicts and it is a decided love fest. She visits Machu Picchu where hundreds of cameras await her, despite being promised a quiet day. “I am missing my home” she says privately in the last days of the engagement. She means Los Angeles.
2007 A Russian TV interview is to be her last professional commitment. “I am so tired of doing this” she admits. “I've done it all my life.” Her "Gopher Mambo" is featured in the very popular Mad Men TV series.
2008 Yma Sumac dies in Silverlake (east Hollywood) after an 8 month battle with stage 4 colon cancer. In full makeup. Media outlets from all corners of the world report it, including Yahoo headline news and a half page in the L.A. Times.
The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce puts a large spray of beautiful flowers near her star on Hollywood Blvd. Within hours fans leave candles and cards around it.
2010 High gloss fashion V Magazine declares Yma Sumac one of the top 10 international fashion icons of all time. "Taki Rari" and "Gopher Mambo" are fast becoming popular among the young and are used in film, television, and modern dance remixes around the world.
2011 Dita Von Teese begins to wear vintage dresses at public events from the Yma Sumac Estate.
2013 RuPaul's Drag Race, an exceedingly popular TV program, uses "Malambo #1" in its "lip sync for your life" segment and wins contestant Jinkx Monsoon the crown. "Malambo #1" becomes an instant favorite among drag queens and is performed in drag shows all lover the world.
2016 Google features Yma Sumac as one of its famous Doodles for what would have been her 94th birthday.
2018 Yma Sumac's "Gopher Mambo" is played at the 2018 Olympics. In October @officialymasumac is launched on Instagram.
2019 In June, for the first time ever, a small selection of Sumac's iconic Inca jewels go on display at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London. Her signature Inca princess dress as worn in Secret of the Incas, Music de Siempre and Las Canciones Unidas also goes on display there. Sumac's exhibit is given the foyer of the museum for display, as a special homage. In September an entire episode about Yma Sumac airs on Latino USA titled The Spell of Yma Sumac. That can be heard here.
2020 In March, Australian radio station PBS 106.7FM dedicates its longest feature segment ever to Yma Sumac and talks with her former personal assistant, friend and webmaster of yma-sumac.com. Later in the same month popular TV show Better Call Saul features Yma Sumac's "Chuncho" and people all over the world ask "what was that song playing in the background? And who sings it?" In October, Yma Sumac fans worldwide were delighted to discover she was the singing voice on a new iPhone 12 commercial.