Israel Kamakawiwo’ole – What A Wonderful World

Israel Kamakawiwoʻole, was also known as “Bruddah Iz” or “IZ.” I first heard him on the show Life On Mars with just his voice and ukulele.  His name is pronounced “Ka-MA-ka-VEE-vo-oh-lay” and it means “the fearless eye, the bold face” in the Hawaiian

Kamakawiwoʻole was born in Honolulu on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. Before launching his solo career in 1990, he performed with his brother Skippy as part of the successful group The Makaha Sons of Niʻihau. .

After years of popularizing Hawaiian music, Kamakawiwo’ole recorded his solo album Ka ‘Ano’i in 1990.  on the album is”Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World,” a medley combining the songs “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World,” made famous by Louis Armstrong in 1967.

Although Kamakawiwo’ole’s 1990 solo album included “Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World,” it’s not the version that most people remember. The acoustic version, with Kamakawiwo’ole on vocals and ukelele, was recorded a few years prior and kept in a recording studio’s archives until the release of his 1993 follow-up, Facing Future.

In 1988, recording studio manager Milan Bertosa was wrapping a long day at 3 a.m. when the phone rang. A regular client had called on behalf of Kamakawiwo’ole, who had an idea he desperately wanted to see through. Bertosa was then put on the phone with Kamakawiwo’ole, whom Bertosa remembers as “this really sweet man, well-mannered, just kind.”

“Please, can I come in?” Kamakawiwo’ole kindly asked. Bertosa relented.

About 15 minutes later, there’s a knock on Bertosa’s door. “And in walks the largest human being I had seen in my life,” Bertosa told NPR. Throughout his life, Kamakawiwo’ole suffered obesity, weighing as much as 757 pounds.

“The first thing at hand is to find something for him to sit on,” Bertosa remembered. Someone from building security gave Israel a big steel chair. “Then I put up some microphones, do a quick soundcheck, roll tape, and the first thing he does is ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’ He played and sang, one take, and it was over.” The next day Bertosa gave a copy for Israel and kept the master for himself. Over time, he found himself playing Kamakawiwo’ole’s recording for family and friends. “It was that special,” he said. “Whatever was going on that night, he was inspired. It was like we just caught the moment.”

In 1993 Bertosa was working on Kamakawawiwo’ole’s next album, Facing Future. On the last few days of recording, he felt something was missing. So Bertosa dug up that 3 a.m. recording, played it for producer Jon de Mello (who was won over), and it was added to Facing Future.

The album peaked at #1 on the Billboard World Music charts. By 2002, the record had sold 500,000 copies—the first Hawaiian-produced album to go gold—and was certified platinum, selling over 1 million copies by 2005.

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole died on June 26, 1997, at the age of 38, before he gained his vast popularity. He had suffered from morbid obesity his entire life. He died of respiratory failure. He was laid in honor in Hawaii’s Capitol building, and his ashes were later scattered into the ocean. He left behind his wife and teenage daughter.

This was written by Bob Thiele and George Weiss. Thiele was a producer for ABC records, and Weiss was a songwriter who helped create the hit version of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

What A Wonderful World

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They’re really saying I love you

I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

37 thoughts on “Israel Kamakawiwo’ole – What A Wonderful World”

  1. He does a nice job on them… I think I might have heard his version of “Over the Rainbow” before but had no idea who it was. Shame he died so young and couldn’t have slimmed down at least a little to maybe prolong his life.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. The big hit is the one above where he combined the two…a lot of movies and tv shows started to use it and it became a massive hit again in 2010

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I just listened to it and had not heard that version either.

        I also just read it was hugely popular in Europe, topping the charts in France and Switzerland. Much of it stemmed from the use in commercials, which in turn fueled radio play.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. My ex and I learned we had a baby on the way in 1984. I tore the roof off the house in order to raise it and enlarge the upstairs. I worked on that thing late into the night and every weekends, most every minute with “blue valentine“, playing in the background. I wore that thing out. To this day my ex-wife still hates it.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Life on Mars is where I heard it first…by the way…that was a great show with John Simm…I’ll be over to your site soon…work as been crazy.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Max, I adore this guy’s version of the Over The Rainbow and play it every few months, it gives me a warm feeling (and sometimes also makes me cry, but that’s no bad thing). The song itself has never been a favourite, nor the sound of the ukelele, but Israel changed both of them, to such good effect.

    Liked by 1 person

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