Israel “Iz” (May 20, 1959 – June 26, 1997) was a Hawaiian musician. He became famous outside Hawaii when his album Facing Future was released in 1993. His medley of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World” was subsequently featured in several films, television programs, and commercials.Through his consummate ukulele playing and incorporation of other genres (such as jazz and reggae), Kamakawiwoʻole remains one of the major influences in Hawaiian music over the last 15 years. Kamakawiwo’ole was born at Kuakini Hospital in Honolulu to Henry Kaleialoha Naniwa Kamakawiwoʻole, Jr., and Evangeline Leinani Kamakawiwo’ole. He was raised in the community of Kaimuki, where his parents had met and married. He began playing music with his older brother Skippy 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 Kamakawiwo’ole’s parents worked. In his early teens, he studied at Upward Bound (UB) of the University of Hawaii at Hilo and his family moved to
Makaha, Hawai’i. There he met Louis “Moon” Kauakahi, Sam Gray, and Jerome Koko. Together with his brother Skippy they formed the Makaha Sons of Niʻihau. From 1976 throughout the 1980s, the Hawaiian contemporary band gained in popularity as they toured Hawaiʻi and the continental United States and released fifteen successful albums. In 1982, Kamakawiwoʻole’s brother Skippy Kamakawiwoʻole died of a heart attack. In that same year, Kamakawiwoʻole married his childhood sweetheart Marlene. Soon after, they had a daughter whom they named Ceslieanne “Wehi”. Kamakawiwoʻole formed the musical group Makaha Sons of Niʻihau with brother Skippy plus Louis “Moon” Kauakahi, Sam Gray and Jerome Koko. They recorded No Kristo in 1976 and released four more albums, including Kahea O Keale, Keala, Makaha Sons Of Niʻihau and Mahalo Ke Akua, before Skippy died of a heart attack in 1982. The group became Hawaii’s most popular traditional group with breakout albums like 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 Kaʻanoʻi, 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”. 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, Kamakawiwoole was voted favorite entertainer of the year by the Hawai Academy of Recording Arts (HARA).E Ala E (1995) featured the political title song “E Ala E” and “Kaleohano”, and N Dis Life (1996) featured “In This Life” and “Starting All Over Again”.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. 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. Throughout the later part of his life, Kamakawiwoʻole suffered from severe obesity and at one point carried 770 pounds (350 kg) (55 stone) on his 6-foot 2-inch (1.88 m) frame. He endured several hospitalizations and died of weight-related respiratory illness on June 26, 1997, at 12:18 a.m. at the age of 38. He is survived by his wife Marlene Kamakawiwo’ole and his daughter Ceslieanne “Wehi”.The Hawaiʻi 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 Capitol building in Honolulu. He was the third person in Hawaiian history to be accorded this honor and the only non-politician. Approximately ten thousand people attended his funeral. Thousands of fans gathered as his ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean at Mākua Beach on July 12, 1997.On September 20, 2003, hundreds paid tribute to Kamakawiwoʻole as a 200-pound 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. GoodNews International Edition
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