— Author unknown
Israel “Iz” Ka╩╗ano╩╗i Kamakawiwo╩╗ole (May 20, 1959 — June 26, 1997) was an Hawaiian musician. Today he is a legend. His last name is pronounced ka-maka-vi-vo-ole.
He became famous outside Hawaii when his album Facing Future was released in 1993 with his medley of “Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World”, which was subsequently featured in several films, television programs, and commercials.
From childhood, his family called Israel by his Hawaiian middle name, Ka╩╗ano╩╗i, the “beloved one.” His name would later become the title name of his first solo album, Ka╩╗ano╩╗i, and also foretells the greatness of this “cherished one.” It is interesting to note here that part of his name, ano╩╗i, when simplified to no╩╗i may be a contraction of the Hawaiian word, nohi. Nohi means “bright-colored, vivid, as the rainbow” (see Hawaiian Dictionary, Pukui and Elbert). Nohi, rainbow, beloved one, and cherished one are powerful symbols in his life. Iz’s recording of the song “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” would become renowned throughout the world and continues to garner high acclaim. The song has come to be known as Iz╩╗s “signature song,” the most renowned of all his songs.
Kamakawiwo`ole was nicknamed “The Gentle Giant” by his admirers. He was described as always cheerful and positive, and he was best known for his love of the land and of the people of Hawai╩╗i. Through his consummate ukulele playing and incorporation of other idioms (such as jazz and reggae), Iz remains one of the major influences in Hawaiian music over the last 15 years.
Israel’s recording of “Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” reached #12 on Billboard’s Hot Digital Tracks chart the week of 1/31/04 (for the survey week ending 1/18/04), possibly due to its use in the Adam Sandler film 50 First Dates, and the Brad Pitt film Meet Joe Black.
Watch this short tribute to Iz, which spans his life and the devotion of his fans…
In 2006, a version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, in an arrangement based on Iz’, was performed by The Worthless Peons in “My Way Home”, the 100th episode of Scrubs, over the closing montage. A recording of the same song by Iz was used in the closing scenes of the final episode of Life on Mars (TV Series). It is also a featured song in the movie Finding Forrester. In 2002, the song was used to powerful effect in the closing scenes of Anthony Edwards’ last appearance in ER as Dr. Mark Greene, in the episode “On the Beach”. On week 8 of American Idol (season 7), Jason Castro performed his own version of this song except that he left out the “What a Wonderful World” line, but still gave credit to Israel for the song.
Iz passed away on June 26, 1997 at the young age of 38. Throughout the later part of his life, he was obese. At one point Iz carried 758 pounds (344 kg) on his 6 foot 2 inch (1.9 m) frame. He endured several hospitalizations and died of a weight-related respiratory illness.
The Hawai╩╗i State Flag flew at half-staff on July 10, 1997, the day of Iz’s funeral. His koa wood coffin lay in state at the Capitol building in Honolulu. He was the third person in Hawaiian history to be accorded this honor (the other two were Governor John A. Burns and Senator Spark Matsunaga) and the only non-politician. Over 10,000 people attended his funeral. Thousands of fans gathered and cheered as his ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean at M─ükua Beach on July 12, 1997.
On September 20, 2003, hundreds paid tribute to Iz as a 200-pound bronze bust of the revered singer was unveiled at the Waianae Neighborhood Community Center on O’ahu. The singer’s widow, Marlene Kamakawiwo’ole, and sculptor Jan-Michelle Sawyer were present for the dedication ceremony.
Rest in peace, Iz.
The moment I heard Iz’s famous medley of “Over The Rainbow and It’s a Wonderful World,” I bought it and played it incessantly. I could not get enough… it was just that uplifting. I am honored to pay tribute to this “gentle giant” here at Inspire21.
— Pete Barkelew
P.S. Here are two other videos I also enjoyed very much – they will open in a separate window if you care to listen…
P.P.S. Special thanks to my great friend, Tony Pritchett, with “Sons of Sailors,” for bringing this tribute video (above) and story to my attention so I could offer it here. Sons of Sailors is a terrific party band you can book for any occasion.