A mountain of a man with an angel’s voice
Israel Kamakawiwoʻole, was a man who’s Hawaiian name you might not be able to pronounce and a man who’s voice you can’t help but stop and listen to. Those who followed his career when he was alive and those who love his music today simply called him “IZ”. There is a good chance that you already know his music but do you know much about the man himself?
IZ was a large man, more so in stature, energy and emotion than in size. His music today, after his death, has attained increasing notoriety. He passed away in 1997 at the age of 38 from complications due to obesity. At one time he topped out at 757 lbs.
As tragic of a tale the short life of IZ is, the purpose of my story is about how the man moved people while he was alive and the joy he continues to bring people even in death. He was a self taught traditional Hawai’ian singer and Ukelele player, forming his first successful band, The Mahaka Sons of Ni’ihau, at 17. He toured all over the Hawai’ian islands and the mainland performing. Together they released fifteen albums through 1991.
He was a proponent and rallying voice for Hawai’ian rights and independence. He often allowed these themes to weave themselves into his music. You are more likely to know his most famous recordings after he started a solo career. These include, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “White Sandy Beach of Hawai’i”.
IZ won numerous entertainer of the year awards in the years between when he left the Mahaka Sons and prior to his demise. When he passed away his body was laid in the State Capitol. He was only the third person to ever receive this honor and the only non-Government official. His ashes were spread in the Pacific with hundreds of followers on paddle boards and boats surrounding him. The linked video below of his song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” shows the ceremony in the end.
IZ’s music continues to grow even in his absence. His label has released an additional four albums and his songs, especially, “Somewhere over the Rainbow” has been featured in many TV commercials. His songs are all the music charts of many countries, even today.
Music has a way of touching people emotionally. Having a song bring back an old memory or feeling is quite common. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, is just that type of song for me. Back in 2005 I was mistakenly diagnosed with lung cancer. As I sat in my car alone in the parking lot after the leaving the doctors office I was in a daze on how I was going to tell my family. It was at that moment that, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” came on. Isreal Kamakawiwoʻole’s voice soothed me and helped me gather myself. One year later, while eating dinner with my family at Duke’s on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu two ladies who were serenading the diners came to our table. They looked at us and played IZ’s song. Only a few weeks earlier I was told I did not have lung cancer. The song brought tears to all of our eyes.
Today when I hear IZ’s voice I am thankful to be alive and wish he too were still alive so that he could continue to share is angelic voice with us all.