Yma Súmac: Google Doodle Pays Tribute to Late Peruvian Songbird
If you’ve gotten a head start googling Game of Thrones-inspired Halloween costumes for your dog today—Does that Jon Snow get-up come in size small? Uh, asking for a friend.—then you’d know that Yma Súmac, famed Peruvian soprano, is the subject of the latest Google Doodle, arriving front and center to your search homepage on what would have been her 94th birthday.
Nicknamed “The Peruvian Songbird” and also “The Voice of the Andes,” Súmac was a vocal virtuoso with a wildly impressive five-octave range; in a 1953 recording of Chuncho (translation: The Forest Creatures) she hits those low, low notes like candied butter and glides her voice right up to the challenging whistle register without missing a beat. Check it out:
She could also perform in “double voice,” a technique similar to Indonesian throat singing that she put to work on her song, Tumba …
Adding to Súmac’s exotic allure? She was an actual princess. Born Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chávarri Del Castillo Sept. 13, 1922 (hey, that’s TODAY!) in a small mountain town near Lima, the burgeoning soprano not only had an early penchant for music but also a yearning to pay homage to her royal ancestry through song. (Though at the time the “royal” status of her heritage was debated, the Peruvian government would later confirm that she was, in fact, a princess and a direct descendant of the last Incan emperor, Atahualpa.)
Fast forward to the 1940s when Castillo changed her name to Yma Súmac, (meaning “beautiful flower” or “beautiful girl” in ancient Quechua), married her famous bandleader, Moisés Vivanco, recorded her first Argentinian album, and finally, in 1950, inked a major deal with Capitol Records. The studio called on big-time producers Les Baxter and Billy May to “Hollywood-ize” (it’s a word, people) her sound and thus, an Incan star was born.
Possessing a peregrine brand of beauty and an unrivaled vocal dexterity, Súmac left audiences fascinated for both better and worse; some compared her milky-smooth voice to a female Frank Sinatra while others questioned her too-good-to-be-true talents. (A strange theory took hold that she was really a Brooklyn housewife named Amy Camus who simply spelled her name backward to appear more mysterious and debonair.)
Despite the rumors, Súmac was very much the real deal (not a palindrome-loving, soccer mom from Bushwick) and very much a force in the canon of musical history, which is precisely why Google Doodle is singing her illustrated praises today.