I’m With Yma — A Blast from the Past

I fell hard for Yma Sumac — born on this day 99 years ago — when I went off to college in cosmopolitan Chicago, where I was able to browse LEGIT used record stores near my Hyde Park dorm. I saw her 1950 Voice of the Xtabay album and was enchanted. I bought it and took it to my room and was captivated. Her voice was said to have influenced Cyndi Lauper's vocal stylings, and Cyndi was, after all, the first person whose poster adorned one of the walls of my room at home.

My cherished autograph

Moved by the kismet, when I read that Sumac was making a long-overdue comeback that included appearances in Chicago, I made it my business to go to both — a signing at Rose Records (and I had just the freshly acquired album for it!) and a series of shows at Ruggles.

I went to the record signing first, and I was first in line. Having never (I think this was my first celebrity?) done this kind of thing, I was terrified. There were cameras around, but I didn't bring one, and getting a picture with her did not occur to me. All I knew was a true fan with a case full of her records was behind me, but I let them go first and they were the ones interviewed because it made sense.

Over 30 years later, the phenomenal archivist Alan Eichler's 2020 upload from this day crossed my feed and there I was, 19 and in line to meet the 65-year-old diva!

I was beyond tickled. When I thanked Alan, he graciously uploaded footage he had from Ruggles! I don't know if it is from the identical evening I was there (likely not), but this show is notable for her inclusion of "Malambo No. 1," a song she was going to add to her set permanently but decided against.

At the Ruggles show I attended, I recall going afterward to a small table where she was set up to get her autograph. I asked if I could kiss her hand — which seemed the appropriate gesture — and she dramatically extended it for me. I'd love to see a picture of that! I remember her heavily perfumed, lotioned hand and the scent it left on my face. Most of all, I remember her bewitching vocals, and the experience of having trekked to a club all alone from Hyde Park to sit like an adult and enjoy a show.

Here is the footage Alan has preserved for all to take in:

1 Response

  1. OMG! I was there too that night!
    When she sang, it got so quiet in there,… You could hear a rat piss on cotton!!!
    I remember she asked the waiters to stop clinking the ice cubes in the drinks!!!
    I too went backstage and got an autograph on the same program as you. I have it!
    I will never forget her Robe du Diva. A Mint Green Bat-winged Caftan (with the jeweled necklace sewn right on to it) and her heavy “Maquillage”.

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