Today I am posting about one of my favourite songs, the jazz and reggae medley, Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World by Bruddah Iz, or IZ. I just got my beautiful copy of IZ, The Ukulele Songbook of his songs and tablature and have been pouring over it for days.
Tomorrow night I am going to teach this arrangement of the song at my Beginner’s Ukulele class in Tillsonburg. So here is a little Bio of IZ and background about the song (all of which I gathered from as many internet sources as possible, so please keep that in mind if one of the facts seems out of whack to you. Just post a correction in the comments, please).
Isreal Kamakawiwo’ole (Kamaka weewoh oleh) which means “fearless eyed”. The current MODERN worldwide appreciation of ukulele music can easily be traced to one man known as IZ, also known as Bruddah IZ. IZ’s music conveys joy and hope and is loved the world over. He is a Hawaiian musician, entertainer and Hawaiian sovereignty activist.
IZ was raised in the same community where his parents had met and married. His father’s name was Henry but he was known as “Tiny” an ironic knick-name because he was obese. His mother had been born on the island of Ni’hau (the forbidden island) and she was also known to have been obese. IZ 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 IZ’s parents worked. IZ also had an uncle in the music recording business, Moe Keale, who was a notable Hawaiian musician and a major musical influence. From an early age IZ was known to have played an ukulele.
In his early teens (early 1970’s) his parents moved to the area known as Makaha, where he met Moon Kaui, Sam Gray and Jerome Koko. Together with his brother Skippy they formed the highly successful band, Makaha Sons of Ni’hau. They toured mainland USA and other parts of the world, producing 19 to 22 successful albums. The last album IZ recorded with them is known to have been their most successful overall. IZ’s older sister Lydia eventually became married to Moon Kaui.
By 1979, IZ’s father Tiny, passed away. In 1982, IZ’s brother Skippy, at the age of 28, died of a heart attack related to obesity. Also in 1982 he married his high school sweetheart whom he had a daughter with.
1990 IZ released his first solo album which did well, but never reached the record-breaking success of his second album. His voice became famous outside Hawaii when his second album Facing Future was released in 1993. His jazz and reggae medley of “Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” was subsequently featured in several films, television programs, and television commercials. In 1997 he was nominated for several esteemed music awards but had to watch the ceremony on television from a hospital room. In 2005 this album became Hawaii’s first certified platinum album by any artist.
Before his death, IZ lost both his mother and father to complications due to obesity, his younger sister Evangeline who died at age 22, and his brother Skippy. These losses had a profound impact on IZ, who attributed them to his performance of White Sandy Beach, another hit song from Facing Future.
Tragically, IZ passed away at the age of 38 in 1997. Although he stood 6 foot 2 inches tall he weighed a morbid 757 lbs at his death. He had endured several hospitalizations and suffered from respiratory problems, heart and circulation problems, and other medical conditions. He died at Queen’s Medical Center on June 26, 1997, at the age of 38. The state flag of Hawaii was flown at half-mast as he lay in state at the Hawaiian Capitol Building. He was the third person in Hawaiian history to be bestowed this honor. Ten thousand people attended his funeral and thousands gathered to witness as his ashes were scattered at Makua Beach. He had been cremated with his beloved vintage Martin ukulele, they claim it was the very one he had played when he recorded “Over the Rainbow”.
After a bronze bust of him was erected in the Waianae Community Park he was officially given the title “The Voice of Hawaii”. He had produced and released 4 solo albums while he was alive, but the recording company “Mountain Apple” which owned the rights to his music and all of his subsequently recorded but as yet unleased material, released 4 albums under IZ’s name after his death. They’re called “compilation albums”. The first one was “IZ in Concert: the Man and his Music,” which did so well that they made 3 more: Alone in IZ World, Wonderful World and Over the Rainbow.
For having lived such a short life he sure managed to achieve a great deal in his lifetime. I for one, am forever grateful that he managed to record this song with such grace and sentiment. I hope everyone enjoys my arrangement of it. Remember, it’s just for fun, and I should add that I did NOT attempt to outline the strum pattern IZ uses in the song. I leave that to the professionals. However, you might find value in the arrangement of the words and chords, and also, if you have trouble with the Em chord you can choose to play G instead. Cp
Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World: over-the-rainbow-iz