May 20, 1959 - June 26, 1997
Better known as Brudda IZ (or just Iz), he was a superstar in the genre of Hawaiian music and was considered a cultural leader for these Pacific Islands. Sometimes he has been referred to as the Bob Marley of Hawaiian music as he expressed what it meant to be Hawaiian and to be proud of it.
You may be thinking you've never heard of this guy or heard his music, but if you've seen the movies Meet Joe Black or Finding Forrester he is on their sound tracks. In Finding Forester his melodic medley of Somewhere Over the Rainbow and What a Wonderful World can be heard throughout. This is actually how I got interested in Iz. I needed to know who was responsible for this hauntingly beautiful voice and ukulele accompaniment. With a little research, to my surprise, I found this soothing tenor voice came from a 6' 2" 700 lbs. Hawaiian who made Konishiki Yasokichi look like a Victoria Secret model.
Israel Kamakawiwo`ole (ka-MAK-a-vi-vo'-O-lay) was a full-blooded Hawaiian born on May 20, 1959 in Kaimuki, Hawaii on the island of Oahu. At the age of ten Iz lost his farther to a heart attack. A few years later, when he was in his early teens, he moved to Makaha.
He spent his days on the beach surfing, singing and playing his ukulele. When he was 15 he and his older brother Skippy started the musical group Makaha Sons of Ni`ihau. Their first album, No Kristo, was released in 1976. The group's rich four-part harmonies, topped by Iz's sweet tenor voice, quickly became adored in Hawaiian culture, but particularly they loved Iz.
In 1982 Iz, along with the rest of the group, suffered a great loss when Skippy died from a heart attack at the horribly young age of 28. Although the Makaha Sons did go on to record a few more albums after this tragedy, it was painful for them to go on without Skippy. Soon after Iz married his childhood sweetheart, Marlene and they quickly had their only child Kawehi.
In 1992, even after what seemed a successful music career, Iz was broke and had to go on welfare. Knowing he would not live much longer he knew he wanted to try and secure a future for his wife and daughter. He left the Makaha Sons to pursue his solo career and start his own record label Big Boy Records. Because it was his label he was able to retain the rights (and pass them to his heirs) to his music.
Like a lot of Polynesians who eat a western diet, Iz had problems with his weight all his life. When he died on June 26, 1997 he weighed nearly 800 lbs. However, the Hawaiian people loved him for the size of his heart. From the stage, as well as entertaining, he would try to have a positive influence on the crowd, talking personally about his problems with drugs and weight as well as other subjects like gang activity on the islands.
When he died the government of Hawaii lowered its state flag to half-staff. His body lay in state at the capitol as thousands came to pay their respects. A three-quarter size bronze statue of him is to be erected that will look out over the surf on the Wai`anae Coast.
With the Makaha Sons of Ni`ihau
- No Kristo (1976)
- Kahea O Keale (1977)
- Keala (1978)
- Makaha Sons of Ni`ihau "Live" (1978)
- Makaha Sons of Ni`ihau (1979)
- Mahalo Ke Akua (1981)
- Puana Hou Me Ke Aloha (1984)
- Ho`ola (1986)
- Makaha Bash 3 (1990)
- Ho`Oluana (1991)
- Na Mele Henoheno (1999)
- Ka` Ano`i (1989)
- Facing Future (1993)
- E Ala E (1995)
- N Dis Life (1996)
- IZ in Concert: The Man and His Music (1998)
- All in IZ World (2001)