Israel Kamakawiwo’ole called a sound studio at 3am, asked nicely to record, got there 15 mins later, then recorded “Over the Rainbow” in just one take.
“I had no idea he made a bunch of mistakes on that song, but it’s pure magic to me.
I’m amazed he got there in 15 minutes….
I grew up in Hawaii, born and raised, so when I tried to explain my friend from Tennessee that there was this Hawaiian singer, about 300+ pounds, with a voice like a nightingale named Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, he thought I was making it up.
I don’t have the link, but someone commented on a post about Israel a while back. He claimed he watched the memorial service from the comfort of the ocean, while bobbing up and down on his surf board, surrounded by scores of other surfers.
That’s a beautiful mental image if you use this song as the soundtrack.
I think the mistakes (I don’t hear them) are part of the magic. It doesn’t sound overly produced or practiced. It sounds like your neighbor or uncle got out on the porch and started singing and everyone stops what they are doing to go out to listen.”
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Everyone is always happy to have one less other person on the island.
His body’s ability to stay alive seems to disagree.
According to that article he weighed almost 700lbs by the time of his passing.
“To me the most amazing part is how happy everyone seems to be, like they chose to remember his time on Earth fondly instead of with sorrow.”
“Eh, once you get that high, another 70 pounds ain’t much” – He died at 767lbs.
The growing success of Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo‘ole (May 20, 1959 – June 26, 1997), the late great Hawaiian vocalist, is an amazing story. In 1993, following a successful run as part of the Makaha Sons of Ni‘ihau, Israel decided to venture out on his own. His first step was to meet with Jon de Mello, one of the most successful producers of contemporary Hawaiian music. The meeting would set the stage for the rest of Israel’s career. Israel made it known that he wanted a solo career and de Mello’s help to chart his new course in the music industry. de Mello’s track record as a producer and his Mountain Apple Company organization perfectly suited Israel’s needs. The relationship blossomed and for the rest of his life, de Mello was Israel’s producer, confidant and musical mentor.
“The song is great, but it doesn’t end very gracefully so this helps put it in context a bit.”
“Man, I wouldn’t want someone to ask me that question. I’d much rather they just do it and me not know.”
“I didn’t realize it was a one take song at 3 AM. As a musician I’m awed.”
“I wouldn’t even call them “mistakes” – our ears are so accustomed to modern popular music that is so overly processed that the original sounds and textures that make the music human are almost entirely cloaked by pitch-correction and computerized instrumentation.”
This version is so raw, so emotional, so human. You can hear the talent pouring out of him as he sings.
“I fancy myself a bit of a musician as well, and I totally get it. Sometimes I’ll just sit and play until 5 Am, knowing full well that I have to get up in two hours. And at that moment, around 4:15, I listen to myself and I’m like” “Damn, I sound good right now. I wish someone could hear me.”
Born and raised in TN
Thought this guy looked really silly as a kid. I see him now and freak out because his song is just beautiful.
“Music today is so overly processed that the original sounds and textures that make the music human”
“My beef with autotune is that assumes that music must be in the 12 note scale. The reality is that music is much more complex and talented singers will do things that seem sharp or flat to autotune, but add depth and emotion to the music. So autotune flattens it out, and then the engineers go back in and add fake vibrato.”
“Same thing with drum machines. Good drummers play around the metronome – a little bit ahead or behind of the beat where they feel the need. Real drummers can add groove and soul into the track. Drum machines have gotten better and can automatically replicate some of this in a mechanical fashion, but it’s not the same.”
“Music is about translating emotion to noise. Computers can only be programmed to understand this, and the amount of programming it would take for a computer have a human sense of pitch and timing… well it’d be easier to hire a real person.
I’m not a purist. I still love EDM. But listen to disco, the last era of pop music before drum machines and autotune, and then listen to modern pop music. Disco gets a lot of hate for it’s flamboyance, but holy shit it fucking grooves.”
Yeah, can you blame him? Plate lunches are amazing in Hawaii. I miss it even though I gained 30 lbs in 4 years living there!
“My jazz band teacher used to say that there’s no such thing as a wrong note, just bad choices.”
“I was crying listening to this song, but that [edited] ending got me lol. I couldn’t not laugh.”
“Not to be morbid but what the hell do you do with a 767 lb. body. I don’t imagine they make coffins that big and he most certainly wouldn’t fit into a cremation oven. Where do you store a body that large while you make funeral preparations? How would a mortician even handle someone so big?”
“Also, I’ve been a pall bearer for someone who weighed 150 and the metal casket was still heavy as fuck split between 8 people, I can’t imagine him having pall bearers or a casket with handles that could support that much weight.”
The late Hawaiian musician Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (Kah-MAH-kah-VEE-voh-OH-lay), did something rare in music. He redefined a beloved classic.
Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World
His version of “Over the Rainbow” has the poignancy of Judy Garland’s and the shimmering vulnerability, but these days it’s heard so often on TV and in the movies, a younger generation may only know Israel’s version. It’s become so popular, it is now the most requested version of the song by far, according to music publishing house EMI. That’s quite remarkable for a rendition with one voice, accompanied only by ukulele.
In Hawaii, we talk about this thing we call mana,” says musician Del Beazley, who grew up with Israel and wrote two of his songs. “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 mouth 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 remembers the first time he heard Israel sing.
“They were teenagers and Israel showed up with his older brother Skippy at a graduation party.”
“They set up with instruments that were kind of beat up. In fact, one of the ukuleles was held together with bubble gum. What happened was, as soon as Israel Kamakawiwo’ole opened his mouth and sang, that whole place went quiet. Every great singer has something special. It’s almost a nasal or head tone. And that thing just cut right through the air, stopped everybody in their tracks.”
Israel was still a teenager when he and his brother formed a band with three other local guys. They called themselves the Makaha Sons of Ni’ihau. In the 1970s, young Hawaiians were rediscovering their language and culture. In music, that meant getting away from kitschy hula tunes for tourists, like “My Little Grass Shack.” Israel’s group was among those who embraced traditional melodies.
Israel was the group’s standout — for his voice and also his size. Both he and Skippy weighed hundreds of pounds — the girth of sumo wrestlers. Israel was over 6 feet tall with flowing black hair.
The 1988 Recording Session That Made Him A Legend
It began at 3 in the morning. Milan Bertosa was at the end of a long day in his Honolulu recording studio.
And the phone rings. It was a client of mine,” Bertosa remembers. The client rattled off Israel’s unpronounceable name and said he wanted to come in and record a demo. Bertosa said he was shutting down, call tomorrow. But the client insisted on putting Israel on the phone. “And he’s this really sweet man, well-mannered, kind. ‘Please, can I come in? I have an idea,’ ” Bertosa remembers Israel saying.
Bertosa relented and gave Israel 15 minutes to get there. Soon, there was a knock at the door.
And in walks the largest human being I had seen in my life. Israel was probably like 500 pounds. And the first thing at hand is to find something for him to sit on.” The building security found Israel a big steel chair. “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.
The next day, Bertosa made a copy for Israel and filed the original recording away. But he was so taken with it, that over the next few years, he played it occasionally for family and friends. “It was that special,” he says. “Whatever was going on that night, he was inspired. It was like we just caught the moment.”
Jump Ahead Five Years
In 1993, Milan Bertosa wound up working as an engineer for Mountain Apple Company in Honolulu, a long-established recording house, where Israel was making a solo album. As Bertosa listened during the final days of recording, he had an epiphany. He turned to producer Jon de Mello and said, “This is great, but there’s more.” Bertosa fished out “Over the Rainbow” and played it for de Mello.
“Israel was really sparkly, really alive,” recalls de Mello after hearing the recording. “He had a grand heart attack in 1989, so this was right before his heart attack.” De Mello put “Over the Rainbow” (actually a medley, with “What a Wonderful World”) on Facing Future, which is still the best-selling Hawaiian album of all time, thanks to one song.
“There’s been a bunch of articles written about ‘Over the Rainbow,’ ” says Bertosa. “He gets the lyrics wrong, he changes the melody. If you sat there with a book and a score card, you could count the mistakes or you could listen to the song and smile.”
Israel weighed close to 700 pounds when he came to de Mello to start a solo career in 1993. He was in and out of the hospital.
His brother Skippy died from complications of obesity, as had almost all of Israel’s immediate family. He knew he was destined for a brief life. To de Mello, everything Israel sang and said became precious. So he instructed his engineers to keep the tape rolling for all the rehearsals, all the jokes.
Israel was a very funny man, he says. “And every session, I would keep him for an hour afterwards.” Just tell me stories, he told Israel. “There was such great content in what this beautiful Hawaiian man was talking about — the trials and tribulations of his own life and his family’s life.”
“I was scared when I lost my mother, my father, my brother, my sister,” Israel told de Mello. “I guess this is gonna sound kind of weird, but I’m not scared for myself for dying. Because I believe all these places are temporary. This is just one shell. Because we Hawaiians live in both worlds. It’s in our veins. When our time come, don’t cry for me. Don’t cry for me. Plant a tree in the middle … where they play soccer,” he laughs. “Kind of small, then I’ll grow big.”
In the summer of 1997, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole , by then one of the most beloved singers in the history of Hawaiian music, died of respiratory failure. He was 38 — and just beginning to see the huge success of “Over the Rainbow.”
Israel’s body lay in state at Hawaii’s Capitol building, a rare honor.
Days later, he was cremated, along with his vintage Martin ukulele — the one he used to record “Over the Rainbow.” The ashes were carried on a traditional Hawaiian voyaging canoe.
His longtime friend Del Beazley and producer Jon de Mello were among those onboard.
“And going down the coastline,” says de Mello, “all the big semi-trucks on the island of Oahu had their air horns blowing. And from the ocean we could hear the echo, the bounce off the mountain ranges.”
“In the old days,” says Beazley, “people would wail when the mo’i or ‘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.”
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