The name Israel Kamakawiwoʻole might not be immediately recognizable to some, but his music is known to many all over the world. The native Hawaiian — better known as Iz — was a musician, singer and songwriter whose ukulele medley of Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World put a heartwarming spin on the beloved classic.
His joyful version of the ballad has appeared on the soundtrack of several movies, TV programs and commercials, and he’s so influential in Hawaiian music he’s considered “the voice of Hawaii.” In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage month, Google is celebrating Iz’s 61st birthday on Wednesday with an animated video Doodle illustrating his life.
To the sound of his iconic version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, the animated video Doodle features pieces of kapa, traditional Hawaiian fabric made from plant fibers and decorated with linear designs created with dyes extracted from native Hawaiian plants.
Born on May 20, 1959, in Honolulu, Israel Ka’ano’i Kamakawiwo’ole (Kah-MAH-kah-VEE-voh-OH-lay) began playing the ukulele at age 11 with his brother and cousin. In 1976, as many Hawaiians were rediscovering their language and culture, the teenage Iz formed the band Makaha Sons of Ni’ihau with his brother and three friends, playing a blend of contemporary and traditional styles. They toured Hawaii and the mainland US and released 15 successful albums.
Late one night in 1988, during an impromptu recording session, Iz made his first recording of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. The song was recorded in a single take, and besides the master recording, Iz got the only copy. Five years later, the recording engineer played the recording for a record producer who decided to put it on one of Iz’s albums as Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World.
The song became an international hit, reaching as high as No. 12 on Billboard’s Hot Digital Tracks chart in 2004 and appearing on the soundtracks of movies such as Meet Joe Black, Finding Forrester and 50 First Dates, among others.
Kamakawiwoʻole died in 1997 at the age of 38 from medical problems related to his weight.
The Doodle was created in partnership with the Kamakawiwo’ole family and Wai’anae-based guest artist Dalani Tanahy of Kapa, Hawaii.
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