Page last updated at 04:08 GMT, Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Peru's songbird Sumac dies at 86

Yma Sumac, file pic
Sumac's costumes gave her the appearance of an Inca princess

Yma Sumac, the soprano known as the Peruvian songbird for her vast vocal range, has died at the age of 86.

Famed for her modern versions of South American folk music, Sumac died of colon cancer in Los Angeles, where she had lived for 60 years, an aide said.

Yma Sumac stunned audiences with her soaring, warbling voice which spanned more than four octaves.

Her striking raven-hair and flamboyant outfits made her a popular figure for American audiences in the 1950s.

With her costumes giving her the appearance of an Inca princess, she was a technicolour musical fantasy for post-war Hollywood, says the BBC's Dan Collyns in Lima.

The singer played heavily on her Andean roots, claiming to be descended from the Inca Emperor Atahualpa.

And in the land of her birth, glowing press tributes have been paid to the only Peruvian to have been written into Hollywood's Walk of Fame, our correspondent says.

Big Lebowski fame

Born Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chavarri del Castillo in Cajamarca, northern Peru, she changed her name to Yma Sumac - which means "How Pretty" in Peru's indigenous Quechua language.

She's no Yma Sumac
Comedian Jon Stewart on Edith Piaf

But while she may have surrounded herself with myths about her life and background, her voice was truly extraordinary, our correspondent says.

She stunned audiences from Europe to Japan, starred in Broadway musicals and played exotic roles in several Hollywood films, including The Secret of the Inca alongside Charlton Heston.

Her fame faded in the 1960s, but was revived in the 1990s through its use in the cult Coen Brothers' film The Big Lebowski, which brought her music to new fans.

Asked about the legendary French singer Edith Piaf in an interview with AP earlier this year, US comedian Jon Stewart quipped: "She's no Yma Sumac."

Shortly before her death Sumac said she wanted to be remembered for making good music and bringing happiness into people's hearts.

The singer's personal assistant Damon Devine said her later years were reclusive, with the singer dwelling more and more on her musical heyday.

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