Happy 60th Birthday, Iz

By Nick Grizzle

Let’s take a moment to wish a happy birthday to Iz, who would be blowing out 60 candles on his cake today. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole‘s death in 1997 at age 37 was far too early, but left a legacy that has extended far beyond the islands of his native Hawaii. On the mainland, he is know best for his rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” but as beautiful as this rendition is, Iz is so much more than a one-hit-wonder.

Released at the end of last year, “Beyond The Rainbow” is a documentary about Iz, and his impact on music and culture. Produced by Hawaii News Now, it takes us on a 30-minute tour of his life as a musician, songwriter, and performer, and gives a look into his beautiful personality through rare footage and interviews of the man himself, as well as with those who knew him well.

“Israel had the best strum… one of the purest strums,” says Moon Kauakahi of the Makaha Sons Of Ni’Ihau. In the Makaha Sons, he says, the music would be arranged around Iz and his unique, strong voice.

The documentary includes comments from other members of the band, as well as Jon de Mello, CEO of Mountain Apple Co., which released Iz’ landmark solo album Facing Future 26 years ago.

It includes nuggets like an anecdote of his hospital stay in 1993, in an attempt to “rejuvenate” himself and lose some weight. While there, he would give impromptu concerts, much to the delight of patients and staff.


Another standout is a tender moment from the Na Hoku Hanohano Awards in 1996, where Iz, wearing dark sunglasses and an oxygen tube, gave a tear-jerking rendition of “Kaleohano” with The Makaha Sons joining Iz and his band onstage. The televised event is an unforgettable moment of Hawaiian music history.

Today, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” is one of the most famous, instantly recognizable songs in the world. Younger generations are less, if at all, familiar with the original Judy Garland version from The Wizard Of Oz, and more as the soulful ukulele version recorded by Bruddah Iz. The recognizable tune brought the islands to the world, and helped spread the aloha with original tunes like “White Sandy Beach.”

“Hawaiian music is my roots, and I’m not going to play anybody else’s music if I can’t do my own.” says Iz, who was passionate about his Hawaiian heritage and culture.

Check out the documentary in the video above, and enjoy more tunes from the soul-touching voice and playing from Iz in the videos below.

Hawaii 78” official video, with footage of Iz performing the song.