Israel Ka’ano’i Kamakawiwo’ole

Israel Ka’ano’i Kamakawiwo’ole (May 20, 1959 – June 26, 1997) known to Hawaiian music buffs everywhere as “Brudda Iz” is likely one of the most famous American musicians of the 20th century that few people can recognize by sight, but whose voice has become world famous, for his rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World,” that are used widely in movie sound tracks.

Early life

Kamakawiwo’ole was born at in Honolulu to Henry Kaleialoha Naniwa Kamakawiwo’ole, 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 Pippy at the age of 11, being exposed to the music of Hawai’ian 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 of the University of Hawaii at Hilo and his family moved to Makaha, Hawaii. There he met Louis “Star” Kauakahi, Sam Gray, and Jerome Koko. Together with his brother Skippy they formed the Makaha Sons of Ni’ihau. From 1976 throughout the 1980s, the Hawaiian contemporary band gained in popularity as they toured Hawai’i and the continental United States and released fifteen successful albums.

In 1982, Kamakawiwo’ole’s brother Skippy Kamakawiwo’ole died of a heart attack. In that same year, Iz married his childhood sweetheart Marlene. Soon after, they had a daughter whom they named Ceslieanne “Wehi”.

Music career

In 1990, Kamakawiwo’ole released his first solo album Ka’ano’i, which won awards for Contemporary Album of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year from the Hawai’i 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 “Hawai’i 78″, “White Sandy Beach of Hawai’i”, “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” would be released as a single.

In 1994, Kamakawiwo’ole was voted favorite entertainer of the year by the Hawai’i Academy of Recording Arts.

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”.

Kamakawiwo’ole 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, Kamakawiwo’ole 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.


Throughout the latter part of his life, Kamakawiwo’ole suffered from severe obesity and at one point carried 770 pounds (350 kg) 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. It has been suggested that a genetic disorder was responsible for his obese condition. He is survived by his wife Marlene Kamakawiwo’ole and his daughter Ceslieanne “Wehi”.

The Hawai’i State Flag flew at half-mast on July 10, 1997, the day of Kamakawiwo’ole’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 Mākua Beach on July 12, 1997.

On September 20, 2003, hundreds paid tribute to Kamakawiwo’ole as a 200-pound bronze bust of the revered singer was unveiled at the Waianae Neighborhood Community Center on O’ahu.


Kamakawiwo’ole’s recording of “Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” reached #12 on Billboard’s Hot Digital Tracks chart the week of January 31, 2004.

On July 4, 2007, Kamakawiwo’ole debuted at No. 44 on the Billboard Top 200 Album Chart with “Wonderful World,” selling 17,000 units.

Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World passed the 2 million paid downloads mark in the USA as of September 27th 2009.

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