Israel Kamakawiwoʻole: why a Google Doodle celebrates the Hawaiian singer and activist on his 61st birthday

Israel Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole, also called Bruddah Iz or IZ, was a native Hawaiian musician, singer-lyricist, and Hawaiian sovereignty activist

He became known outside Hawaii when his album, Facing Future, was released in 1993, and his medley of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World’ was featured on numerous TV programmes, commercials and films.

Today, on what would have been his 61st birthday, Google Doodle honours Kamakawiwoʻole, so here’s everything you need to know about him.

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Israel Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole, also called Bruddah Iz or IZ, was a native Hawaiian musician, singer-lyricist, and Hawaiian sovereignty activist (Photo: Google)

Who was Israel Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole?

Kamakawiwoʻole was born on 20 May 1959 and 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, having been exposed to the music of Hawaiian entertainers of the time, including Peter Moon, Palani Vaughn and Don Ho.

These entertainers would frequently visit the places where Kamakawiwoʻole's parents worked.

Kamakawiwoʻole and his family moved to Mākaha when his was a teenenager, where he met Louis Kauakahi, Sam Gray, and Jerome Koko.

How did he become a successful musician?

Together with his brother Skippy, Kamakawiwoʻole formed the Makaha Sons of Niʻihau, and as a part of the Hawaiian Renaissance, the band's blend of traditional and contemporary styles continued to gain popularity as they toured Hawaii and the United States.

They released 15 successful albums, with Kamakawiwoʻole's aim being to make music that stayed true to the sound of traditional Hawaiian music. He believed that the songs many people typically associated with Hawaii were not traditional-sounding songs.

In 1982, Skippy died of heart attack, aged 28.

Kamakawiwoʻole’s first solo album Ka ʻAnoʻi, was released in 1990, 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 then released in 1993 by The Mountain Apple Company. This album featured a version of his most popular song, the medley ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World’.

Facing Future became Hawaiʻi's first certified platinum album and sold more than a million CDs in the United States.

The album has also become the best-selling Hawaiian album of all time.

Kamakawiwoʻole was voted favorite entertainer of the year in 1994 by HARA.

When did Israel Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole die?

Kamakawiwoʻole died on 26 June 1997 from numerous health problems, with the Hawaiin flag flying at half-staff on 10 July, which was the day of his funeral.

Around 10,000 people attended the funeral, with thousands of fans gathering as his ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean at Mākua Beach on 12 July.

Supporter of Hawaiian RightsKamakawiwoʻole was not only known for his success as a musician, but for promoting Hawaiian rights and Hawaiian independence.

He often incorporated the issue of independence into his lyrics and used his music to promote awareness of his belief that a second-class status had been pushed onto the natives by the tourist industry.

Today, Kamakawiwoʻole remains an influential figure in Hawaiian music.