Hawaii became the last state to join the United States after approval from Congress on August 21, 1959. While Hawaii was once an independent nation, it is now the only US state with an archipelago located in the tropics.

The native Hawaiian people are Indigenous Polynesian people and carry the traditional name of Kanaka Maoli. It was initially settled over 800 years ago as Polynesians journeyed to the islands.

Now, their heritage is preserved through traditional Hawaiian music and through the Hawaiian language, which is the state’s official language, along with English.

Traditional Hawaiian folk music includes several types, such as chanting (mele) and music meant for dancing (hula).

Hawaiian singers throughout the years have continued the tradition of producing Hawaiian music, but during the Hawaiian Renaissance, more contemporary music was begun to be made as well.

One such popular singer was Israel Kamakawiwoʻole, who would become famous for his ukulele cover of the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which was made famous by Judy Garland in the 1938 movie, The Wizard of Oz.


10 /10 Recording Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What A Wonderful World

In 1988, Israel’s friend called a Honolulu recording studio owned by Milan Bertosa at 3:00 am, wanting Israel to record a song.

The studio was just about to shut down but said he could come if he could make it within 15 minutes.

At the time, Israel weighed roughly 500 lbs. and needed an oversized steel chair to sit on.

After a quick soundcheck, the tape rolled, and the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” came out in one take.


9 /10 Chart Topper

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” would go on to be the longest maximum number one hit on any of the Billboard song charts as it spent over 185 weeks on top of the World Digital Songs chart.

The song debuted as number 12 on Billboard’s Hot Digital Tracks chart during the week of January 31, 2004. Additionally, as of October 2014, the song sold more than 4.2 million digital copies.

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8 /10 Use In Pop Culture

The song” Somewhere Over the Rainbow” has been in cult classic films such as 50 First Dates, K-Pax, Meet Joe Black, Fred Claus, and Letters to Santa.

It has also been in TV series such as ER, Scrubs, Glee, Lost, Modern Family, and many more. It initially gained popularity in 1999 when an excerpt was used in a TV commercial for eToys.com.

The official music video for “Over the Rainbow” also reached over a billion views on YouTube on December 21, 2020.

The song was also inducted into the National Recording Registry to preserve the piece as heritage in American recorded music in 2021.

7 /10 Growing Up In A Musical Family

Israel Kamakawiwoʻole was born on May 20, 1959, at the Kuakini Medical Center in Honolulu.

His father, Henry “Hank” Kaleialoha Naniwa Kamakawiwoʻole Jr., and his mother Evangeline “Angie” Leinani Kamakawiwoʻole raised him in the community where they had met and married.

His uncle was also the notable Hawaiian musician Moe Keale and significant musical influence in his early life.


6 /10 Beginning His Musical Career

At 11 years old, he played music with his older brother Skippy and his cousin Allen Thornton.

Through his parents’ place of work, he was exposed to the tune of popular Hawaiian entertainers of the time, including Peter Moon, Palani Vaughn, and Don Ho.

Hawaiian musician Del Beazley said the first time he heard Israel perform, the entire room fell quiet hearing him sing.

He would stay in Hawaii until Skippy entered the Army in 1971, and Allen moved to the mainland in 1976.

5 /10 Going To University

Israel attended the Upward Bound (UB) program at the University of Hawaii at Hilo in his early teens after his family moved to Makaha.

Once there, he formed the Makaha Sons of Niʻihau along with Skippy, Louis Kauakahi, Sam Gray, and Jerome Koko.

This group became a part of the Hawaiian Renaissance due to their blending of contemporary and traditional styles. They gained popularity as they toured Hawaii and the mainland US.

Together they released fifteen successful albums. Israel’s goal was to produce music that stayed true to his roots of traditional Hawaiian music.

4 /10 Promoting Hawaiian Rights

He was a prominent advocate for Hawaiian rights and Hawaiian independence. This was shown through his song lyrics, where he often stated why Hawaii should be independent and through his actions.

Many of his lyrics also promote Hawaiian ideals and even used the state motto of Hawaii many times in the song Hawaii ’78.

His music also announced awareness that he thought his fellow natives had been made into second-class citizens by the tourist industry in Hawaii.

3 /10 Becoming Christian

Israel would become a born-again Christian in the 1990s. He was baptized in 1996 at the Word of Life Christian Center in Honolulu.

He would also speak publicly about his beliefs at the Na Hoku Hanohano Awards. His song “Ke Alo O Iesu,” meaning The Presence of Jesus, also showcased his ideas.

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2 /10 Remembering His Legacy

In 2010, NPR named Israel the “Voice of Hawaii” in its 50 great voices series.

He was also honored with the German national music Award Echo in 2011.

The 2014 Pixar short film, Lava, had two volcanoes as the main characters and used Israel’s cover of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

His style of music was also used as part of the inspiration for the short film by James Ford Murphy.

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1 /10 Israel's Death

Israel suffered from obesity throughout his wife. At one time, he weighed 757 pounds at the height of 6 feet 2 inches.

Due to this, he was hospitalized several times. He also had chronic medical problems, including respiratory and cardiac issues.

He passed away at Queen’s Medical Center on June 26, 1997, at age 38 from respiratory failure in Honolulu, Hawaii.

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