The most popular entertainer in Hawaii until his tragic death in 1997, Israel Kamakawiwo'ole formed the traditional Makaha Sons as a teenager in the mid-'70s, went out on his own in more of a contemporary style by the 1990s, and released four immensely popular recordings before passing away just after the release of 1996's N Dis Life. Born in the Honolulu suburb of Kaimuki, Kamakawiwo'ole later moved to nearby Makaha. In allegiance to his new home, Israel formed the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau with brother Skippy plus Louis "Moon" Kauakahi, Sam Gray and Jerome Koko. The Makaha Sons recorded No Kristo in 1976 and released five more albums during as many years, though Skippy's death of a heart attack in 1982 came as quite a blow to his younger brother. The group soldiered on, and became Hawaii's most popular traditional group with breakout albums like 1984's Puana Hou Me Ke Aloha and its follow-up, 1986's Ho'ola.
Israel Kamakawiwo'ole decided to begin recording on his own with 1990's Ka 'Ano'i, which became the most popular Hawaiian album of the year. Though he continued his solo career, by 1991 he had recorded with the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau again, and that year's Makaha Bash 3 set still more records in Hawaii, thanks in part to the single "Broken Promise." Another Makaha LP, Ho'oluana, appeared in 1992, though it was the last with Israel. His second solo effort, Facing Future, appeared in 1993, and 1995's E Ala E featured a reunited duet with Skippy, thanks to studio technology. Israel continued to win awards and sell very well with 1996's N Dis Life, but his ballooning weight problem (at times, he weighed over 750 pounds) caused his early death at the age of 38.
After his death, Iz's single "Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" charted numerous times, first in 2004 when appearances in various commercials and movies helped it climb to number 12 on Billboard's Hot Digital Tracks chart. In 2010, Europe fell under its spell as its use in commercials drove airplay on radio, and it topped the charts in both France and Switzerland while it reached number six in Austria. As of 2015, the song has sold over five-million digital copies. ~ John Bush