What comes to mind when you hear the song “Over the Rainbow”?
Perhaps ukulele strumming with a high-pitched ringing of the strings?
Perhaps the gentle breaking of the waves against the shore?
Or a Hawaiian singer’s warm, soulful voice?
For those born after the age of the Wizard of Oz and Judy Garland’s performance of the song, this may be the only version they know – and it has persisted due to its timeless quality.
Israel Kamakawiwo’ole sang the legendary version.
The version has also seen several covers, and it may be one of the most popular songs to learn for ukulele beginners.
This rendition sounded peaceful, tranquil, and hopeful. And those who have worked with IZ, as he is known in the business, would tell you that this enthusiasm came naturally to him.
Del Beazley, a musician, can testify to this.
“In Hawaii, we talk about this thing we call mana,” he said to NPR, “Mana is like an energy that you get. We believe we get ours from the elements first: the earth, your sky, your ocean, your God, and all that is inside of us. And when we open our mouths to speak, to sing, or to play, that’s what we let out. But it’s that that makes him [Israel] special because his mana always came out.”
IZ grew up with Beazley, who composed two of his songs. They were at a graduation celebration when IZ and his brother Skippy arrived.
It was the first time Beazley had heard him sing, and everyone went quiet.
Then, in 1988, a late-night phone call transformed IZ’s life as a musician. At three a.m., Milan Bertosa received a phone call.
A client requested that IZ record the tune.
He claimed it could wait until tomorrow, however the client refused.
“Then I put up some microphones, do a quick sound check, roll tape, and the first thing he does is ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’
He played and sang in one take, and that was the end of it.” He told NPR about it.
Bertosa then persuaded producer Jon de Mello to put the song on IZ’s solo album “Facing Future” in 1993.
With only one song, the album went on to become the best-selling Hawaiian record of all time.
He may not have lasted long in this world, but his music and spirit did. He and his family are both tremendously overweight, and practically all of his immediate family members have died as a result of obesity-related diseases.
IZ said that he is not afraid. He had long accepted his destiny.
He told de Mello that death is just a transient condition for Hawaiians who dwell in both realms.
Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole died in 1997 from respiratory failure.
His music, on the other hand, lingered on. His rendition remained on the World Digital Song Sales list for 541 weeks.
It began with 332 non-consecutive weeks at the top in 2011.
The version has almost 1 billion views on YouTube.
“In the old days,” Beazley tells NPR, “people would wail and cry when the mo’ior ‘king’ died.”
That’s exactly what it was.
This whole island came together to bid farewell to this one Hawaiian.
But I assure you, he would have laughed.”
Listen to Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s heartfelt performance of “Over the Rainbow” below.
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