For years…this has been my favorite version of this song. After learning about the singer and the story about how it was made, I love it even more. I couldn’t say it better than the article, so I’m just putting it here for you to enjoy too….what do you think?
“The late Hawaiian musician Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (Kah-MAH-kah-VEE-voh-OH-lay), did something rare in music. He redefined a beloved classic. His version of “Over the Rainbow” has the poignancy of Judy Garland’s and the shimmering vulnerability, but these days it’s heard so often on TV and in the movies, a younger generation may only know Israel’s version. It’s become so popular, it is now the most requested version of the song by far, according to music publishing house EMI. That’s quite remarkable for a rendition with one voice, accompanied only by ukulele.
“In Hawaii, we talk about this thing we call mana,” says musician Del Beazley, who grew up with Israel and wrote two of his songs. “Mana is like an energy that you get. We believe we get ours from the elements first, the Earth, your sky, your ocean, your God, and all that is inside of us. And when we open our mouth to speak, to sing or to play, that’s what we let out. But it’s that that makes him [Israel] special, because hismana always came out.”
The 1988 Recording Session That Made Him A Legend
It began at 3 in the morning. Milan Bertosa was at the end of a long day in his Honolulu recording studio.
“And the phone rings. It was a client of mine,” Bertosa remembers. The client rattled off Israel’s unpronounceable name and said he wanted to come in and record a demo. Bertosa said he was shutting down, call tomorrow. But the client insisted on putting Israel on the phone. “And he’s this really sweet man, well-mannered, kind. ‘Please, can I come in? I have an idea,’ ” Bertosa remembers Israel saying.
Bertosa relented and gave Israel 15 minutes to get there. Soon, there was a knock at the door. “And in walks the largest human being I had seen in my life. Israel was probably like 500 pounds. And the first thing at hand is to find something for him to sit on.” The building security found Israel a big steel chair. “Then I put up some microphones, do a quick sound check, roll tape, and the first thing he does is ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’ He played and sang, one take, and it was over.”
The next day, Bertosa made a copy for Israel and filed the original recording away. But he was so taken with it, that over the next few years, he played it occasionally for family and friends. “It was that special,” he says. “Whatever was going on that night, he was inspired. It was like we just caught the moment.”
Jump Ahead Five Years
In 1993, Milan Bertosa wound up working as an engineer for Mountain Apple Company in Honolulu, a long-established recording house, where Israel was making a solo album. As Bertosa listened during the final days of recording, he had an epiphany. He turned to producer Jon de Mello and said, “This is great, but there’s more.” Bertosa fished out “Over the Rainbow” and played it for de Mello.
“Israel was really sparkly, really alive,” recalls de Mello after hearing the recording. “De Mello put “Over the Rainbow” (actually a medley, with “What a Wonderful World”) on Facing Future, which is still the best-selling Hawaiian album of all time, thanks to one song.”There’s been a bunch of articles written about ‘Over the Rainbow,’ ” says Bertosa. “He gets the lyrics wrong, he changes the melody. If you sat there with a book and a score card, you could count the mistakes or you could listen to the song and smile.”