About Israel Kamakawiwo'ole
In fewer than four decades, Hawaiian singer/songwriter Israel Kamakawiwo'ole—known simply as "Iz" to his fans—would come to define Hawaiian music for islanders and mainlanders alike. Born in Honolulu in 1959, Iz learned to play the ukulele at age six; by 11, he was performing hapa haole (half-foreign) music for tourists with his older brother Skippy. As a founding member of Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau, he joined other young islanders bringing traditional Hawaiian music to the forefront with acoustic stringed instruments and angelic laidback male harmonies. Iz struck out on his own with 1990’s Ka 'Ano'I (The Desirable One), the first of a small handful of solo albums that combined island classics like his spirited hit "Henehene Kou 'Aka" (Your Laughter Is So Contagious), anthems promoting Hawaiian sovereignty, reggae-infused "Jawaiian" grooves, and mega-mellow versions of country classics like John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads." But Iz had his greatest commercial success with a mellifluous, ukulele-accompanied medley that joined the timeless yearning of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to the Louis Armstrong standard "What a Wonderful World." Recorded during an impromptu 3 a.m. session a full five years before its 1993 release, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" redefined a classic and helped Iz's Facing Future album sell more than a million copies to become the best-selling Hawaiian album ever. He was only beginning to enjoy that success when he died of respiratory failure in 1997, at just 38 years old.
BORNMay 20, 1959