Yesterday, in the first round of the AccuRadio Music Madness Tournament of Covers, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole‘s version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” beat out The Ataris‘ cover of Bryan Adams‘s “The Boys of Summer” by hundreds of votes. What’s so special about this song?
Hawaiian musician Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwo’ole (Kah-MAH-kah-VEE-voh-OH-lay)’s reinterpretation of “Somewhere over the Rainbow” is now more popular than Judy Garland’s original in The Wizard of Oz. It’s a medley, combining the movie favorite with Louis Armstrong‘s “What a Wonderful World” and featuring only Iz’s voice and his ukulele. Kamakawiwo’ole’s melody differs from both original songs and he occasionally flubs the intended lyrics, but his medley re-imagined the already popular song and served to inspire people all over the world.
Israel Kamakawiwo’ole had quite a journey before recording this cover, however. As a young boy, Israel looked up to popular Hawaiian entertainers and started playing ukulele and performing when he was only ten years old. In his early teens, he formed a band, Makaha Sons of Ni’ihau, with his brother and friends; they released their first album in 1976. By the mid 1980s, they became the most popular Hawaiian modern traditional band around, even after the death of Israel’s brother, Skippy, a few years prior. The band released a total of 21 albums together, and continue to play with their remaining band members.
Kamakawiwo’ole released his first solo album in 1990, while remaining a part of the Makaha Sons. His 1993 album Facing Future included his hit cover “Somewhere over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World,” which was a Billboard hit not only in the United States, but in the UK, Germany, France, Belgium, and Switzerland as well. The album later became the best-selling Hawaiian album of all time.
After releasing five more solo albums, Kamakawiwo’ole died in 1997, while the success of his medley was still on the rise. When he was cremated, his vintage ukulele – the one he recorded this cover on – went with him. Scenes of his funeral were recorded, set to the medley and released as a YouTube video, which now has over 52 million views. Israel was posthumously named “The Voice of Hawaii” by NPR. As IZ’s producer, Jon de Mello, explains on his website, Israel’s voice was one that “would unite the Hawaiian people and be heard all over the world.”
If you want your voice to be heard in our Music Madness Tournament of Covers, please make sure to visit our site and place your vote. Each day you vote, you’ll be entered to win a prize, with the Grand Prize being a flyaway trip. Listen to all the songs competing in the tournament on our Music Madness channel.
Who do you think will take it all? Let us know in the comments!