I arrived a bit early to the Scarborough Uke Jam, with a few minutes to kill, and decided to stay in the car to listen to Jazz FM. I least expected to hear the ukulele, but there was Israel Kamakawiwo'ole singing and playing Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World. So glad I paused, and was so richly rewarded. After the song played, the announcer told the story about how Israel and a friend called up a recording studio executive at 3 a.m. to sweet talk him into a recording session before he closed up for the night... Israel arrived 15 minutes later...
"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." Voice of HawaiiIsrael had mana:
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. Voice of HawaiiFive years after the late night recording session, 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' was resurrected from the archives, and four years after that, in 1997, Israel died, just as the song was becoming an international favourite.
His funeral was not a sad occasion, some footage is included in the video below.