Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, the late Hawaiian musician, did something unusual for music. He reinterpreted a well-known classic. The younger generation might only be familiar with Israel’s rendition of What a Wonderful World, even though it is performed so frequently on TV and in movies these days. It has the same poignancy and shimmering vulnerability as Judy Garland’s. But did you know Kamakawiwo’ole recorded the song in just one take?
Israel Kamakawiwo’ole originally recorded the well-known ukulele medley “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” also known as “What A Wonderful World,” in a hastily convened session at three in the morning.
Remembering the 3 AM Recording
Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakawiwo’ole was born in Honolulu in 1959. He was raised on the island of Ni’ihau, which is still the only island in the world with a completely Hawaiian population and is only accessible with a resident’s invitation.
Even though “Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” was on Kamakawiwo’ole’s 1990 solo album, it’s not the version that most people are familiar with. Before the release of his 1993 follow-up, Facing Future, Kamakawiwo’ole’s acoustic version, featuring him on vocals and ukelele, was recorded a few years earlier and stored in a recording studio’s archives.
At three in the morning in 1988, recording studio manager Milan Bertosa was finishing up a long day. as soon as the phone rang. On behalf of Kamakawiwo’ole, who had an idea he was fervently hoping to see through, a regular customer had called. The next thing that happened was that Bertosa was put on the phone with Kamakawiwo’ole, who, in his memory, was this really sweet man, well-mannered, just kind.
Please, can I come in? Please, can I come in? Kamakawiwo’ole kindly asked.Milan Bertosa, Remembering Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
the largest human being I had ever seen. Kamakawiwo’ole struggled with obesity throughout his life and reached a maximum weight of 757 pounds. (Source: Inverse)
Very Special Recording
The following day, Bertosa gave Israel a copy while keeping the original for himself. He eventually started playing Kamakawiwo’ole’s recording for his loved ones.
The first thing at hand is to find something for him to sit on, Someone from building security gave Israel a big steel chair. Then I put up some microphones, do a quick soundcheck, roll tape, and the first thing he does is ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’ He played and sang, one take, and it was over. It was that special. Whatever was going on that night, he was inspired. It was like we just caught the moment.Milan Bertosa, Remembering Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
Working on Kamakawawiwo’ole’s upcoming album, Facing Future, in 1993 was Bertosa. He noticed a discrepancy in the final few days of recording. Bertosa then discovered that 3 a.m. recording to producer Jon de Mello, who liked it and added it to the album Facing Future.
The Recording Industry Association of America awarded the album a platinum certification in 2005, making it one of the best-selling Hawaiian music albums of all time. The song has become renowned after appearing in countless commercials, TV shows, such as ER and Charmed, and motion pictures like Meet Joe Black and 50 First Dates. (Source: Inverse)
Image from NPR