When someone mentions the song “Over the Rainbow,” what do you hear?
Maybe the strumming of the ukulele with a high-pitched ringing of the strings?
Or maybe the soft crashing of the waves against the shore?
Or the warm soulful voice of a Hawaiian singer?
For those who were born after the era of the Wizard of Oz and Judy Garland’s version of the song, this might be the only rendition we know – and it endured because of its timelessness.
The iconic version was sung by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole.
The rendition has also seen covers upon covers and it might be one of the most popular songs to learn for those who picked up the ukulele.
This version sounded of peace, calmness, and of hope. And for those who worked with IZ, as he is known in the industry, this energy was natural to him.
Musician Del Beazley can attest 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.”
Beazley grew up with IZ and wrote two of his songs.
They were at a graduation party when IZ showed up with his brother Skippy.
It was the first time Beazley heard him sing, and at that moment, everyone fell silent.
Then, in 1988, IZ’s life as a musician was changed by a late-night phone call.
Milan Bertosa got a phone call at three in the morning.
A client wanted IZ to record the song.
He said it can wait until tomorrow but the client was adamant.
“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, one take, and it was over.” He recalled to NPR.
Then, in 1993, Bertosa asked producer Jon de Mello to include the song in IZ’s solo album “Facing Future”.
With that song alone, the album became the best-selling Hawaiian album of all time.
He may have not stayed long in this world but his music and soul endured.
He and his family are severely overweight and almost all of his immediate family members passed away due to complications of obesity.
IZ said he wasn’t scared. It was a fate he accepted long ago.
He shared with de Mello that death is a temporary state for Hawaiians live in both worlds.
In 1997, Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole passed due to respiratory failure.
His song lived on, however. According to Billboard magazine, his version stayed for 541 weeks on the World Digital Song Sales chart.
It included 332 non-consecutive weeks in the top spot starting in 2011.
On YouTube, the version has over 1 billion views.
“In the old days,” says Beazley to NPR, “people would wail when the mo’ior ‘king’ passed away — and cry.
And that’s really what it was.
This whole island came together just to say goodbye to this one Hawaiian.
But I tell you, he would have been laughing.”