Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s Version Of Judy Garland’s Classic Is The Most Requested Worldwide

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole possessed a profound mana, a concept in Hawaiian culture signifying one’s energy and essence, which emanated through his mesmerizing singing voice. His journey to musical acclaim began when he and his brother serenaded a graduation party with beat-up ukuleles, leaving the audience spellbound and paving the way for his future as a folk hero in Hawaii.


One of Kamakawiwo’ole’s most iconic recordings is the acoustic medley of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” and “What A Wonderful World.” Recorded as an afterthought in the early hours of the morning, it became the track that propelled him to international stardom. Despite his imposing physical stature, Kamakawiwo’ole’s gentle demeanor charmed recording studio personnel, and he recorded the medley in a single take, seated on a specially procured steel chair.

The medley, added to his second solo album in 1993, captivated listeners worldwide, featuring prominently in commercials, films, and television shows. EMI reports that Kamakawiwo’ole’s rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” is the most requested version of the song, surpassing even the classic rendition by Judy Garland. Despite deviating from the original lyrics and melody, Kamakawiwo’ole’s poignant ukulele rendition redefined the timeless classic.

Tragically, Kamakawiwo’ole passed away in 1997 at the age of 38 due to respiratory failure. His popularity in Hawaii was such that his body lay in state at the Hawaii Capitol Building, and his ashes were ceremoniously taken to sea in a traditional voyaging canoe, accompanied by honking horns along the coastline of Oahu, a poignant farewell from the entire island.

In Hawaii, Kamakawiwo’ole is cherished for his music, advocacy for Hawaiian sovereignty, cultural contributions, and his undeniable mana, evident in every note he sang. Beyond Hawaii, he is immortalized for his rendition of “Over The Rainbow,” a testament to his enduring legacy and the profound impact of his music on listeners worldwide. As Milan Bertosa, the engineer who captured Kamakawiwo’ole’s historic recording, aptly remarked, one can choose to focus on the mistakes or simply listen to the song and smile.

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