To gauge the magnitude of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's popularity in his native Hawaii, consider this: following his death in 1997 (at age 38, attributed to his profound obesity), Kamakawiwo'ole's body lay in state in the state capitol, only the second person to receive such an honor. Kamakawiwo'ole's appeal lies in his love for prestatehood, precondominium Hawaii and the expressiveness of his gently passionate voice, which can float through higher registers with an ease that brings Johnny Mathis
to mind. Several selections ("Ka Pua U'i," "White Sandy Beach of Hawai'i," the sun-kissed "La 'Elima") feature Kamakawiwo'ole in a traditional mood, using only his ukulele to adorn the charm of his native lyricism. Others, such as the Jimmy Buffett
-like "Maui Hawaiian Sup'pa Man" add playful contemporary touches that suit Kamakawiwo'ole's style. Most touching are the string-backed laments that open and close the album, "Hawai'i '78 Introduction" and "Hawai'i '78," initially a reflection on his father's death, later on the passing of Hawaii's native culture. Best known is his medley "Somewhere over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World," which played over the closing credits of the film Meet Joe Black
. --Terry Wood
Iz's breezy Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World medley brought legions of new fans to this 1993 album when it appeared on several TV and film soundtracks years later. His second solo album also features Kuhio Bay; Ka Huila Wai ; his take on Take Me Home, Country Roads , and more!