Israel "Iz" Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole (Hawaiian pronunciation: kəˌmɐkəˌvivoˈʔole) translation: "The Fearless Eyed"; May 20, 1959 - June 26, 1997), also called Bruddah Iz (Brother Iz), was a Hawaiian musician.
His voice became famous outside Hawaii when his album Facing Future was released in 1993. His medley of "Somewhere over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" was subsequently featured in several films, television programs, and television advertisement commercials.
Through his skillful ukulele playing and incorporation of other genres (such as jazz and reggae), Kamakawiwoʻole's music remains a very strong influence in Hawaiian music.
Kamakawiwoʻole was born at Kuakini Hospital in Honolulu to Henry Kaleialoha Naniwa Kamakawiwoʻole, Jr., and Evangeline Leinani Kamakawiwoʻole. The notable Hawaiian musician Moe Keale was his uncle. He was raised in the community of Kaimuki, where his parents had met and married. He began playing music with his older brother Skippy and cousin Allen Thornton at the age of 11, being exposed to the music of Hawaiian entertainers of the time such as Peter Moon, Palani Vaughn, and Don Ho, who frequented the establishment where Kamakawiwoʻole's parents worked. Hawaiian musician Del Beazley spoke of the first time he heard Israel play, when, while playing for a graduation party, the whole room fell silent on hearing him. Israel continued his path as his brother Skippy entered the Army in 1971 and cousin Allen parted ways in 1976 for the mainland.
In his early teens, he studied at Upward Bound (UB) of the University of Hawaii at Hilo and his family moved to Mākaha. There he met Louis "Moon" Kauakahi, Sam Gray, and Jerome Koko. Together with his brother Skippy they formed the Makaha Sons of Niʻihau. A part of the Hawaiian Renaissance, this talented Hawaiian band's blend of contemporary and traditional styles gained in popularity as they toured Hawaii and the continental United States, releasing fifteen successful albums. Israel's aim was to make music that stayed true to the typical sound of traditional Hawaiian music. During that time period the songs that people associated with Hawaii weren't authentic or traditional sounding songs.
The Makaha Sons of Niʻihau recorded No Kristo in 1976 and released four more albums, including Kahea O Keale, Keala, Makaha Sons Of Niʻihau and Mahalo Ke Akua. In 1982, Kamakawiwoʻole's brother, Skippy, died at age 38 of a heart attack related to obesity. In that same year, Kamakawiwoʻole married his childhood sweetheart Marlene. Soon after, they had a daughter whom they named Ceslie-Ann "Wehi".
The group became Hawaii's most popular modern traditional group with breakout albums 1984's Puana Hou Me Ke Aloha and its follow-up, 1986's Hoʻola. Kamakawiwoʻole's last recorded album with the group was 1991's Hoʻoluana. It remains the group's top-selling CD.
In 1990, Kamakawiwoʻole released his first solo album Ka ʻAnoʻi, which won awards for Contemporary Album of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year from the Hawaiʻi Academy of Recording Arts (HARA). Facing Future was released in 1993 by The Mountain Apple Company. It featured his most popular song, the medley "Somewhere over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World", along with "Hawaiʻi 78", "White Sandy Beach of Hawaiʻi", "Maui Hawaiian Sup'pa Man", and "Kaulana Kawaihae". The decision to record a cover of Somewhere Over the Rainbow was said to be a last minute decision by his producer Jon de Mello and him.Facing Future debuted at #25 on Billboard magazine's Top Pop Catalogue chart. On October 26, 2005, Facing Future became Hawaii's first certified platinum album, selling more than a million CDs in the United States, according to figures furnished by the Recording Industry Association of America. On July 21, 2006, BBC Radio 1 announced that "Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World(True Dreams)" would be released as a single in America.
In 1994, Kamakawiwoʻole was voted favorite entertainer of the year by the Hawaiʻi Academy of Recording Arts (HARA).
E Ala E (1995) featured the political title song "ʻE Ala ʻE" and "Kaleohano", and N Dis Life (1996) featured "In This Life" and "Starting All Over Again".
In 1997, Kamakawiwoʻole was again honored by HARA at the Annual Nā Hōkū Hanohano awards for Male Vocalist of the Year, Favorite Entertainer of the Year, Album of the Year, and Island Contemporary Album of the Year. He watched the awards ceremony from a hospital room.
Alone in Iz World (2001) debuted at #1 on Billboard's World Chart and #135 on Billboard's Top 200, #13 on the Top Independent Albums Chart, and #15 on the Top Internet Album Sales charts.
Kamakawiwo'ole's Facing Future has become the best selling Hawaiian album of all time.
Support of Hawaiian rights:
Kamakawiwoʻole was known for promoting Hawaiian rights and Hawaiian independence, both through his lyrics, which often stated the case for independence directly, and his life, for example his song Hawai'i '78, where the lyrics 'the life of this land is the life of the people/ and that to care for the land (malama 'āina) is to care for the Hawaiian culture', a statement which many consider to summarise his Hawaiian ideals. The state motto of Hawai'i is a recurring line in the song and encompasses the meaning of Iz's message: Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono (proclaimed by King Kamehameha III when Hawai'i regained sovereignty in 1843. Roughly translated: The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness).
Kamakawiwo'ole used the ukulele to promote awareness of the second class status pushed onto the natives by the tourist industry.
Throughout his life, Kamakawiwoʻole was morbidly obese and at one point weighed 767 pounds (348 kg; 54.8 st) standing 6-foot-2-inch (1.88 m) tall. He endured several hospitalizations because of health problems caused by his obesity. Beset with respiratory, heart and other medical problems, he died at the age of 38 in Queen's Medical Center at 12:18 a.m. on June 26, 1997. Kamakawiwoʻole is survived by his widow, Marlene Kamakawiwoʻole, and their daughter, Ceslie-Ann "Wehi".
The Hawaii state flag flew at half-staff on July 10, 1997, the day of Kamakawiwoʻole's funeral. His koa wood coffin lay in state at the state capitol building in Honolulu. He was the third person in Hawaiian history to be awarded this honor, and the only one who was not a government official. Approximately ten thousand people attended the funeral. Thousands of fans gathered as his ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean at Mākua Beach on July 12, 1997. The funeral and the scattering of Kamakawiwoʻole's ashes were featured in the official music video of "Over the Rainbow" released posthumously by the Mountain Apple Company; as of March 2014, the video as featured on YouTube has gained over 100 million views.
On September 20, 2003, hundreds paid tribute to Kamakawiwoʻole as a bronze bust of the revered singer was unveiled at the Waianae Neighborhood Community Center on Oʻahu. The singer's widow, Marlene Kamakawiwoʻole, and sculptor Jan-Michelle Sawyer were present for the dedication ceremony.
Kamakawiwoʻole's recording of "Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" was featured in the movies K-Pax, Meet Joe Black, Finding Forrester, Son of the Mask, 50 First Dates, Men With Guns (Hombres Armados), Fred Claus and IMAX: Hubble 3D. It was also featured on TV series like ER, American Dad!, Scrubs, Cold Case, Glee and the UK original version of Life On Mars among others.
"Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" reached #12 on Billboard's Hot Digital Tracks chart the week of January 31, 2004 (for the survey week ending January 18, 2004). It passed the 2 million paid downloads mark in the USA by September 27, 2009, and then sold 3 million in the USA as of October 2, 2011.
On July 4, 2007, Kamakawiwoʻole debuted at No. 44 on the Billboard Top 200 Album Chart with "Wonderful World," selling 17,000 units.
In April 2007, "Over the Rainbow" entered the UK charts at #68, and eventually climbed to #46, spending 10 weeks in the Top 100 over a 2-year period.
In October 2010, following its use in a trailer for the TV channel VOX and on a TV advertisement - for Axe deodorant (which is itself a revival of the advertisement originally aired in 2004) - it hit #1 on the German singles chart, was the number one seller single of 2010 and was eventually certified 2× Platinum in 2011.
As of November 1, 2010, "Over the Rainbow" peaked at No. 6 on the OE3 Austria charts, which largely reflect airplay on Austria's government-operated Top 40 radio network. It also peaked at No.1 in France and Switzerland in late December 2010.
On December 6, 2010, Kamakawiwoʻole was named one of the 50 great voices on National Public Radio.
On March 24, 2011, Kamakawiwoʻole was honored with the Alemani national music award Echo. The music managers Wolfgang Boss and Jon de Mello accepted the trophy in his stead.
MMA fighter and native Hawaiian BJ Penn has used the song E Ala Ē as his walkout song on several occasions.
His rendition of "Over the Rainbow", is often used as bumper music on the overnight radio show Coast to Coast AM.