amakawiwoʻole was born at Kuakini Hospital in Honolulu to Henry Kaleialoha Naniwa Kamakawiwoʻole, Jr., and Evangeline Leinani Kamakawiwoʻole. He was raised in the community of Kaimuki, where his parents had met and married. He began playing music with his older brother Skippy and cousin Allen Thornton at the age of 11, being exposed to the music of Hawaiian entertainers of the time such as Peter Moon, Palani Vaughn, and Don Ho, who frequented the establishment where Kamakawiwoʻole's parents worked. Israel continued his path as his brother Skippy entered the Army in 1971 and cousin Allen parted ways in 1976 for the mainland.
Somewhere Over The Rainbow / What A Wonderful World
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In his early teens, he studied at Upward Bound (UB) of the University of Hawaii at Hilo and his family moved to Mākaha. There he met Louis "Moon" Kauakahi, Sam Gray, and Jerome Koko. Together with his brother Skippy they formed the Makaha Sons of Niʻihau. From 1976 throughout the 1980s, the Hawaiian contemporary band gained in popularity as they toured Hawaii and the continental United States and released fifteen successful albums.
In 1982, Kamakawiwoʻole's brother Skippy Kamakawiwoʻole died of a heart attack. In that same year, Kamakawiwoʻole married his childhood sweetheart Marlene. Soon after, they had a daughter whom they named Ceslie-Ann "Wehi".
"Bruddah Iz" on the cover of Facing Future
Kamakawiwoʻole formed the musical group Makaha Sons of Niʻihau with brother Skippy plus Louis "Moon" Kauakahi, Sam Gray and Jerome Koko. They recorded No Kristo in 1976 and released four more albums, including Kahea O Keale, Keala, Makaha Sons Of Niʻihau and Mahalo Ke Akua, before Skippy died of a heart attack in 1982. The group became Hawaii's most popular traditional group with breakout albums 1984's Puana Hou Me Ke Aloha and its follow-up, 1986's Hoʻola. Kamakawiwoʻole's last recorded album with the group was 1991's Hoʻoluana. It remains the group's top-selling CD.
In 1990, Kamakawiwoʻole released his first solo album Ka ʻAnoʻi, which won awards for Contemporary Album of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year from the Hawaiʻi Academy of Recording Arts (HARA). Facing Future was released in 1993 by The Mountain Apple Company. It featured his most popular song, the medley "Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World", along with "Hawaiʻi 78", "White Sandy Beach of Hawaiʻi", "Maui Hawaiian Sup'pa Man", and "Kaulana Kawaihae". Facing Future debuted at #25 on Billboard Magazine's Top Pop Catalogue chart. On October 26, 2005, "Facing Future" became Hawaii's first certified platinum album, selling more than a million CDs in the United States, according to figures furnished by the Recording Industry Association of America. On July 21, 2006, BBC Radio 1 announced that "Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World(True Dreams)" would be released as a single in America.
In 1994, Kamakawiwoʻole was voted favorite entertainer of the year by the Hawaiʻi Academy of Recording Arts (HARA).
E Ala E (1995) featured the political title song "ʻE Ala ʻE" and "Kaleohano", and N Dis Life (1996) featured "In This Life" and "Starting All Over Again".
Kamakawiwoʻole was known for promoting Hawaiian rights and Hawaiian independence, both through his lyrics, which often stated the case for independence directly, and his life.
In 1997, Kamakawiwoʻole was again honored by HARA at the Annual Nā Hōkū Hanohano awards for Male Vocalist of the Year, Favorite Entertainer of the Year, Album of the Year, and Island Contemporary Album of the Year. He watched the awards ceremony from a hospital room.
Alone in Iz World (2001) debuted at #1 on Billboard's World Chart and #135 on Billboard's Top 200, #13 on the Top Independent Albums Chart, and #15 on the Top Internet Album Sales charts.
Throughout the later part of his life, Kamakawiwoʻole was obese and at one point carried 757 pounds (343 kg; 54.1 st) on his 6-foot-2-inch (1.88 m) frame. He endured several hospitalizations because of problems caused by his weight. At age 38, he died of weight-related respiratory illness at The Queen's Medical Center in Honolulu on June 26, 1997, at 12:18 a.m. Kamakawiwoʻole is survived by his wife, Marlene Kamakawiwoʻole, and his daughter, Ceslie-Ann "Wehi".
The Hawaiʻi State Flag flew at half-staff on July 10, 1997, the day of Kamakawiwoʻole's funeral. His koa wood coffin lay in state at the Capitol building in Honolulu. He was the third person in Hawaiian history to be awarded this honor, and the only one who was not a government official. Approximately ten thousand people attended the funeral. Thousands of fans gathered as his ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean at Mākua Beach on July 12, 1997.
On September 20, 2003, hundreds paid tribute to Kamakawiwoʻole as a bronze bust of the revered singer was unveiled at the Waianae Neighborhood Community Center on Oʻahu. The singer's widow, Marlene Kamakawiwoʻole, and sculptor Jan-Michelle Sawyer were present for the dedication ceremony.