20 May 1959
Honolulu, Honolulu County, Hawaii, United States
26 June 1997 (aged 38)
Israel Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole (translation: "The Fearless Eyed Man") (May 20, 1959 – June 26, 1997), also called Bruddah Iz or IZ, was a Native Hawaiian singer-songwriter, musician, and Hawaiian sovereignty activist.
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 released on his albums Ka ʻAnoʻi and Facing Future. It was subsequently featured in several films, television programs, and television commercials. Along with his ukulele playing and incorporation of other genres, such as jazz and reggae, Kamakawiwoʻole remains influential in Hawaiian music.
Kamakawiwoʻole was born at Kuakini Medical Center in Honolulu to Henry "Hank" Kaleialoha Naniwa Kamakawiwoʻole, Jr. and Evangeline "Angie" Leinani Kamakawiwoʻole. The notable Hawaiian musician Moe Keale was his uncle and a major musical influence. 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 perform, when, while playing for a graduation party, the whole room fell silent on hearing him sing. 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 Kauakahi, Sam Gray and Jerome Koko. Together with his brother Skippy they formed the Makaha Sons of Niʻihau. A part of the Hawaiian Renaissance, the band's blend of contemporary and traditional styles gained in popularity as they toured Hawaii and the continental United States, releasing fifteen successful albums. Kamakawiwoʻole's aim was to make music that stayed true to the typical sound of traditional Hawaiian music. During that time period, the songs that many people associated with Hawaii, typically, were not 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 28 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 Ceslieanne "Wehi" (born in c. 1983).
The group became Hawaii's most popular contemporary 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 a version of his most popular song, the medley "Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" (listed as "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 include a cover of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" was said to be a last-minute decision by his producer Jon de Mello and Kamakawiwoʻole. Facing Future debuted at #25 on Billboard magazine's Top Pop Catalogue chart. On October 26, 2005, Facing Future became Hawaiʻi'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.
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, the lyric in his song "Hawaiʻi '78": "The life of this land is the life of the people/and that to care for the land (malama ʻāina) is to care for the Hawaiian culture", is a statement that many consider to summarize his Hawaiian ideals. The state motto of Hawaiʻi 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 Hawaiʻi regained sovereignty in 1843. It can be roughly translated as: "The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness").
Kamakawiwoʻole used the tenor ukulele, and his music as a whole, to promote awareness of his belief that a second-class status had been pushed onto the natives by the tourist industry.
On December 6, 2010, NPR named Kamakawiwoʻole as "The Voice of Hawaii" in its 50 great voices series.
On March 24, 2011, Kamakawiwoʻole was honored with the German national music award Echo. The music managers Wolfgang Boss and Jon de Mello accepted the trophy in his stead.
A 2014 Pixar short film, Lava, features two volcanoes as the main characters. Israel Kamakawiwoʻole's cover of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and his style of music was James Ford Murphy's partial inspiration for the short film.
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