The growing success of Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo‘ole (May 20, 1959 – June 26, 1997), the late great Hawaiian vocalist, is an amazing story. In 1993, following a successful run as part of the Makaha Sons of Ni‘ihau, Israel decided to venture out on his own. His first step was to meet with Jon de Mello, one of the most successful producers of contemporary Hawaiian music. The meeting would set the stage for the rest of Israel’s career. Israel made it known that he wanted a solo career and de Mello’s help to chart his new course in the music industry. de Mello’s track record as a producer and his Mountain Apple Company organization perfectly suited Israel’s needs. The relationship blossomed and for the rest of his life, de Mello was Israel’s producer, confidant and musical mentor.
Their first release was his remarkable solo CD “Facing Future”. de Mello’s production focused on Israel’s stunning voice and launched his incredibly successful solo recording career. “Facing Future” was followed with the release of another five remarkable recordings, “E Ala E” (1995), “N Dis Life” (1996), “IZ In Concert: The Man and His Music” (1998), ““Alone In IZ World”” (2001) and “Wonderful World” (2007). With each successive recording, Israel shared his love of Hawai‘i and her people with the world at large and the world responded in kind. Today, “Facing Future” remains the top selling Hawaiian music album in the world. In 2002 it was certified gold by the RIAA, a first for a Hawaiian Record label. In 2005, it was certified platinum for sales of over 1 million units. Then “Alone In IZ World” was certified gold. With each passing year, Israel’s presence in the music industry and the sales of his recordings continue to grow despite the trends that surround the industry. An amazing story about an amazing man, the man referred to by some as the Hawaiian Suppaman. While Israel has always been revered in Hawai‘i, his worldwide influence came later. IZ’s music first gained national attention in the mid 1990’s. Billboard Magazine writer Doug Reece writes: “In 1997 there were only seven weeks when Hawaiian musicians–citizens of a state whose population is a fraction of all others–did not appear on the Top World Music Albums chart. Even more impressive was the individual tally scored by cherished, recently deceased vocalist Israel Kamakawiwo`ole. His (most recent) album ‘N Dis Life’ ran a remarkable 39 weeks on that chart…”
Listeners around the world were becoming aware of the power of the music, including those involved in film and television. These great fans were insistent in their desire that Israel’s music be used in their projects. The more IZ was exposed to the world, the more fans responded. Universal Films contacted The Mountain Apple Company about an exclusive license to use Israel’s recording, “Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World” in the movie Meet Joe Black. The call was the result of director Martin Brest’s (“Scent Of A Woman”, “Beverly Hills Cop”), love of this remarkable version. Next, eToys.com adopted IZ’s music for a series of ubiquitous national television commercials. Israel’s sweet voice was matched perfectly to these television commercials, which celebrate the innocence and beauty of childhood and the discovery of a world filled with wonder. This success prompted feature articles in the Washington Post and TV Guide. More exposure led to more fans, and the fans were truly passionate in their support. In December 2000, best-selling author Dean Koontz honored Israel in the front of his new book “From The Corner of His Eye”. Koontz’s quote pays tribute to the power of this music: “As I wrote this book, the singular and beautiful music of the late Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole was always playing. I hope that the reader finds pleasure in my story equal to the joy and consolation that I found in the voice, the spirit, and the heart of Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole.” Koontz followed this tribute by yet another kudo to IZ in another best selling book “One Door Away From Heaven” released in December 2001 by saying: “For the second time (the first having been as I worked on From the Corner of His Eye), I have written a novel while listening to the singular and beautiful music of the late Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole. When I mentioned Bruddah Iz in that previous book, a couple thousand of you wrote to share your enthusiasm for his life-affirming music. Of his six CDs, my personal favorites are “Facing Future”, In Dis Life, and E Ala Ë.” Once a presence as large as IZ gets moving, it’s very tough to stop, and it didn’t. The momentum continued into late 2000, as once again his music was featured in a major motion picture, “Finding Forrester” starring Sean Connery and directed by Gus Van Sant (“Good Will Hunting”). The only vocal
track included on the film’s soundtrack with Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman and Bill Frisell, exposed IZ to jazz fans world wide, and respond they did.
In July 2001, IZ’s music hit the big screen once again, this time in the movie “Made” starring Vince Vaughan and Jon Favreau. On January 29, 2001, America On Line (AOL) included information on IZ on their welcome screen, unheard of for a Hawaiian musician. Millions of AOL subscribers were introduced to IZ and his music as they logged on-line. 2001 also saw the release of IZ’s CD, ““Alone In IZ World”,” which debuted #1 on Billboard’s World Chart and #135 on Billboard’s Top 200. This CD is one of only 12 to ever debut #1 on the World Chart. It has remained consistently in the Top 10 of Billboard’s World Chart until it was required to move to the world catalog charts where it has remained a fixture ever since it’s release. Indeed, “Facing Future” has remained on the World Chart for an astonishing 493 weeks with “Alone In IZ World” staying there for 300 weeks (all in the top 5), each with no hint of faltering. The release of “Alone In IZ World” garnered articles in the prestigious Washington Post and Chicago Tribune and again, more fans followed. In May 2002, producer John Wells selected IZ’s music for the top-rated television show “ER”. Wells placed it in the season finale that was viewed by 50 million people. Following the exposure of his music in “ER,” IZ was featured in
People Magazine and Parade Magazine. Again, more exposure brought more loyal and passionate fans. The result–even further exposure when the music was used in the hit film “50 First Dates” starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. The music served to highlight the final emotional scene, drawing raves from viewers. Immediately following the release of the film, “Over The Rainbow” hit the R&R (Radio & Records) Adult Contemporary Chart as well as the Billboard AC Single Chart, climbing steadily as AC radio stations across the country started adding the song to their playlists. The ability of Israel’s vocal to make an immediate connection with the listener has made him a favorite of major advertising agencies.
His recordings are featured in commercials throughout the world, which remain in rotation because of Israel’s unique ability to connect. For reasons that cannot be adequately explained or understood, people feel good when they hear his voice, they feel safe and they feel happy. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are
from. It doesn’t matter whether you are a truck driver or a movie star. That indefinable unique characteristic which is at the core of all great music burns bright in Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s voice. It is for that reason that Hawaiians worldwide consider him their standard bearer. It is why his fans include Bette Midler, Adam Sandler, Jim Carey, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sean Connery, Drew Barrymore, Dean Koontz, Paul Simon, Jimmy Buffett, Jon Favreau, New York Mets’ Benny Agbayani, director Martin Brest, producers John Wells and Zalman King, Japan sumotori Konishiki, Akebono and Musashimaru, and people of good will throughout a world, sorely in need of it.