Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chávarri del Castillo was born on either September 13, 1922, or September 10, 1923, most likely in Callao, a seacoast city in Peru; but according to herself in Ichocán, an Andean village. Her parents were Sixto Chávarri and Emilia Castillo. Her father was born in Cajamarca and her mother was born in Pallasca. Stories published in the 1950s claimed that she was an Incan princess, directly descended from Atahualpa. The government of Peru in 1946 formally supported her claim to be descended from Atahualpa, the last Incan emperor."
She was better known as a famous soprano. In the 1950s, she was one of the most famous proponents of exotica music.
Sumac became an international success based on her extreme vocal range, which was said to be "well over five octaves" or otherwise was claimed to span over five octaves, at the peak of her singing career. Sumac recorded an extraordinarily wide vocal range of 5 octaves, 3 notes and a semitone ranging from E2 to B♭7 (approximately 107 Hz to 3.7 kHz). In one live recording of "Chuncho", she sings a range of over four and a half octaves, from B1 to F#7. She was able to sing notes in the low baritone register as well as notes above the range of an ordinary soprano & notes in the Whistle Register. Both low and high extremes can be heard in the song Chuncho (The Forest Creatures) (1953). She was also apparently able to sing in an eerie "double voice".