The name Israel Kamakawiwoʻole may not be immediately recognizable to some, but his music is known to many around the world. The Hawaiian native – better known as Iz – was a musician, singer and songwriter whose ukulele mix of Somewhere Over the Rainbow / What a Wonderful World gave a comforting twist to the beloved classic.
His joyful version of the ballad appeared on the soundtrack of several movies, TV shows and commercials, and he is so influential in Hawaiian music that he is considered “the voice of Hawaii.” In honor of Asian-American Pacific Heritage Month, Google celebrates Iz’s 61st birthday on Wednesday with an animated Doodle video depicting his life.
To the sound of its iconic version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, the animated video Doodle presents pieces of kapa, a traditional Hawaiian fabric made from plant fibers and decorated with linear patterns created with dyes extracted from native Hawaiian plants.
Born May 20, 1959 in Honolulu, Israel, Ka’ano’i Kamakawiwo’ole (Kah-MAH-kah-VEE-voh-OH-lay) started playing ukulele at the age of 11 with his brother and his cousin. In 1976, when many Hawaiians were rediscovering their language and culture, the adolescent Iz formed the group Makaha Sons of Ni’ihau with his brother and three friends, playing a mixture of contemporary and traditional styles. They toured Hawaii and the Americas and released 15 hit 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 one take, and in addition to the main recording, Iz obtained the only copy. Five years later, the sound engineer played the recording for a record producer who decided to put it on one of Iz’s albums under the title Somewhere Over the Rainbow / What a Wonderful World.
The song became an international hit, reaching 12th on Billboard’s Hot Digital Tracks charts in 2004 and appearing on soundtracks for films such as Meet Joe Black, Finding Forrester and 50 First Dates, among others.
Kamakawiwoʻole died in 1997 at the age of 38 of weight-related medical problems.
The Doodle was created in partnership with the Kamakawiwo’ole family and the guest artist based in Wai’anae Dalani Tanahy of Kapa, Hawaii.