Thursday, November 6, 2008

Yma Sumac, 1922-2008

Yma Sumac, a Peruvian singer with a four-octave range, died last weekend. You can read her obit in the New York Times, and see more about her on her Website.

The way I heard of her was through Thomas Meehan's New Yorker story "Yma Dream," which is performed in the YouTube clip above by Christine Baranski. The visuals are just pictures of everyone mentioned in the story.

During David Letterman's rather disastrous hosting of the Academy Awards a few years ago, I don't think anyone got it that his bit of introducing Oprah Winfrey to Uma Thurman, and then to Keanu Reeves ("Oprah, Uma; Uma, Oprah; Oprah, Keanu...") was in fact modelled on this story.

This story begs to be heard. I don't think simply reading it off the page, silently to yourself, could have the same effect.


  1. I only knew Sumac as a crossword puzzle clue. But I'm tickled that you found the Baranski reading on the Meehan story. That originally played on a public radio program called Selected Shorts, and I've been unable to find it until now. The only other reading of the story was one with Ann Bancroft. Good, but not Baranski.

  2. I first heard the Baranski reading at a friend's place. She had a set of tapes of the reading series it was part of. (I was going to write that so the preposition didn't end the sentence, but it sounded to preposterously pompous.) When I read that Yma Sumac died, I started poking around on the Web looking for a print version of the story to link the blog post to (ditto re preposition). I found Ann Bancroft's first, which I hadn't heard before. You're right, Chris - she gives a very different reading. I prefer Baranski too.

  3. My mother had a couple of Yma Sumac albums, so I grew up with her. I play her mambo songs occasionally on my radio show, Omar's Dance Party. I did not know that she had passed on either. Guess i need to spend more time at the obits. eeek