“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was first made famous by Judy Garland for the 1938 movie The Wizard of Oz.
Then, Louis Armstrong first recorded and released What a Wonderful World in 1967.
Then, there was Iz, Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole; his classic medley of “Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World” was added to the National Recording Registry on March 24, 2021.
That registry has recordings “worthy of preservation for all time based on their cultural, historical or aesthetic importance in the nation’s recorded sound heritage.” (HPR)
The Library of Congress, which oversees the registry, called the medley “melancholic and joyous at once” and praised Kamakawiwo‘ole’s vision of “contemporary Hawaiian music that fused reggae, jazz and traditional Hawaiian sound.” (Star Advertiser)
Watch/listen to the “Official” rendition (you will be joining over 1.23-billion who have listened before you)”
Iz’s redition appeared on his 1993 album ‘Facing Future,’ released by Mountain Apple Co. It remains one of the company’s most beloved releases, said Mountain Apple founder Jon de Mello.
The medley has appeared in several television and film productions, such as TV’s “Charmed” and “ER” and the movie “50 First Dates.” De Mello said that someone from Sony Music, which licenses the commercial use of “Over the Rainbow,” once told him the song is requested nearly 500 times a week, and the vast majority are for Kamakawiwo‘ole’s version. (Star Advertiser)
Apparently, the recording by Iz was impromptu and brief (one take). Milan Bertosa, who was at the end of a long day in his Honolulu recording studio got a call from a client connected to Iz; he told the caller he was shutting down, call tomorrow. (NPR)
But the client insisted on putting Kamakawiwo‘ole on the phone. “And he’s this really sweet man, well-mannered, kind. ‘Please, can I come in? I have an idea,’“ Bertosa remembers Kamakawiwo‘ole saying. He arrived in the next 15 minutes. That was in 1988.
“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,” Bertosa said. (NPR)
“(Kamakawiwo‘ole) went into a studio and sat down and did one take — ‘Over the Rainbow’ and ‘It’s a Wonderful World’ and walked out about 20 minutes later,” de Mello said. “It was a moment in time, and it was a perfect moment in time for Israel.”
The next day, Bertosa made a copy and filed the original recording away. Then in 1993, Bertosa wound up working as an engineer for Mountain Apple Company, a long-established recording house, where Kamakawiwo‘ole was making what would become the best-selling Hawaiian album of all time. (HPR)
Though released in 1993, the recording was actually made a few years earlier. A digital recording made at the time then sat in a drawer before Bertosa brought it to de Mello. Bertosa said, “You should listen to this, this is pretty good,” de Mello recalled.
Kamakawiwo’ole actually was reluctant to put it on “Facing Future,” since it had been recorded so many years earlier, but it was added to the album almost as an afterthought, appearing as the 14th of 15 tracks on the album. (Star Advertiser)
According to Billboard, His famous cover of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” has spent a record 541 weeks on the World Digital Song Sales chart, including 332 non-consecutive weeks at No. 1 starting in 2011.
Google paid tribute to Iz in May 2020 during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month with an animated Doodle of him playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on his iconic ukulele in a reimagined clip of the viral video.
Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole was born in Honolulu on May 20, 1959. Toward the end of his life, Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole’s weight became unsustainable. He was unable to perform and carried an oxygen tank with him. On June 26, 1997, Iz died at the age of 38. Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole’s cause of death was respiratory failure.
On the day of his funeral, the flag flew at half-mast. About 10,000 people gathered in the ocean to watch his ashes be paddled to Makua Beach. Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole’s death made for a day of mourning for what seemed like all of Hawaii.
Hundreds paddled alongside his ashes, as the respectful air horns from trucks on land echoed across waters, and Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole’s ashes were scattered. (Margaritoff)