Sometimes the depth of my obliviousness hits me like a kick in the gut. I’m still trying to figure out how I’ve enjoyed this sunny little rendition of “Over the Rainbow” without hearing about the man behind it until now. Somehow, until my son pulled up this video last night, I had managed not to know that the singer, Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwoʻole, was a popular Hawaiian musician. (I know, the ukulele, if not the name, should have been a clue.) I’d never seen a picture of him. I didn’t know that cheerful voice and spirit belonged to a man who struggled all his life with obesity and ultimately succumbed to its complications in 1997, at the much-too-young age of 38.
Although the song was first released in 1993 as part of a medley on the album “Facing Future,” apparently it didn’t start climbing pop charts around the world until 2004, six years after the artist’s death. Remarkably, as recently as February 2011, IZ was beating Lady Gaga on Germany’s download charts.
“The Hawaiʻi State Flag flew at half-mast on July 10, 1997, the day of Kamakawiwoʻole’s funeral. His koa wood coffin lay in state at the Capitol building in Honolulu. He was the third person in Hawaiian history to be awarded this honor, and the only one who was not a government official. Approximately ten thousand people attended the funeral. Thousands of fans gathered as his ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean at Mākua Beach on July 12, 1997.” (Wikipedia)
I didn’t know about IZ until last night. But knowing has changed forever the way I hear this song — his song.