Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s 61st Birthday

Israel Kamakawiwoʻole's 61st Birthday

Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s 61st Birthday – In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in the U.S., today’s Doodle celebrates the 61st birthday of native Hawaiian `ukulele player, singer-songwriter, and activist Israel “IZ™” Kamakawiwo`ole, who is perhaps best known for touching the world with his beloved rendition of “Over the Rainbow” and forever changing the face of Hawaiian music. Through his joyful songs and lifelong advocacy for the islands’ values and culture, Kamakawiwo`ole has been widely referred to as the “Voice of Hawai`i.” 

Israel Ka`ano`i Kamakawiwo`ole was born on this day in 1959 in a suburb of Honolulu, Hawai`i and raised in a native islander family with a shared love of Hawaiian music. At ten years old, he was often found holding his `ukulele against his chest. In his teens, Israel, his brother, and three friends dug deep into the traditional sounds of the islands. Together, they achieved huge popularity across fifteen albums.

Late one night in 1988, Israel sat down in a Honolulu studio, closed his eyes, and in a single take, sang an emotional `ukulele-backed version of the classic song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Little did he know, this recording—which serves as the soundtrack of today`s video Doodle—was destined to become an international phenomenon.

But Israel is so much more than one song; with his band and successful solo career, he redefined popular Hawaiian music through his own unique style and spread his love for the islands around the world.

Thank you, Israel, for providing the soundtrack for Hawai`i and for continuing to move hearts around the world through your music.



Special thanks to the family of Israel Kamakawiwo`ole for their partnership on this project. Below, they share their thoughts on his legacy.


Pictured:  Israel facing the future
Photo Credit: Jon de Mello

The Kamakawiwo`ole `Ohana (family) remains overwhelmed by the worldwide reach of Israel’s music and the reaction of everyone who hears his voice, a voice that instantly touches your heart. Having Google create a Doodle for his 61st birthday gives us all reason to again celebrate his life and impact on millions worldwide. 

Israel’s musical legacy includes critically acclaimed Gold and Platinum recordings which are recognized and loved throughout the world. More important to us and the greater `ohana of Hawaiians, is the spotlight that his success has brought to Hawai`i, his Hawaiian heritage, and, most of all, the Hawaiian people. 

Born in 1959, the same year that Hawai`i became the 50th State, Israel grew up on O`ahu and was known to all as a rascal. He was always holding or playing his `ukulele. His roots were on the island of Ni`ihau, which is privately owned and remains the only island with a 100% Hawaiian population and cannot be visited without an invitation from a resident. Israel spent his summers there with grandparents learning the life lessons of the early Hawaiians who practiced the ancient ways. 

In his late teens, he and his brother Skippy formed the Makaha Sons of Ni`ihau, a contemporary Hawaiian musical group at the height of the Hawaiian cultural renaissance. Their music resonated with Hawaiians and Hawaiians at heart, and they won the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards (the Hawaiian music equivalent of a Grammy) year after year. Israel broke out on his own in 1993 (after releasing two solo albums while still performing with the group), and the rest is history. He recorded three solo CDs between 1993 and his death in 1997, which have allowed for four posthumous releases. 

His iconic version of “Over the Rainbow” has been licensed in dozens of hit feature films, TV shows, commercial advertising, and remains on various Billboard charts to this day.

Combine an iconic song with a distinctive and unique artist, and you get an international hit—one that continues to delight and spread across the world. 

The Kamakawiwo`ole family hopes that this Birthday Doodle will spread more aloha around the world.

Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono
(“The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness”)

Photo Credit: Brett Uprichard


Pictured: Israel with his `ukulele
Photo Credit: Jon de Mello




Doodler Q&A with Sophie Diao

Today’s Doodle art was directed by Doodler Sophie Diao.
Below, she shares some thoughts on the making of the Doodle:

Q: When did you first learn about Israel Kamakawiwo`ole?

A: I’d grown up hearing his cover of “Over the Rainbow” around, but I didn’t know his name until I learned about his inspiring one-take recording a few years ago. 

 Q: What was your creative approach for this Doodle? Why did you choose this approach?

A: My goal was to make an animated video about Israel’s life and legacy as a musician that would complement the relaxed and optimistic tone of the song. Stylistically, I wanted it to feel gentle and loose and for it to all flow together. I tried to depict scenes that reflected who Israel was as a person and places in Hawai`i that were important to him. 

I asked Dalani Tanahy of Kapa Hawaii to create traditional Hawaiian kapa for the Doodle that would add depth and dimension to the scene transitions. I also enlisted the help of  Gabrielle Ahuli`i, a Native Hawaiian author and librarian in Honolulu who kindly helped me come up with ideas and gave feedback on the video as it was created. I’m so thankful for the hard work and support of these two women.

 Q: Did you draw inspiration from anything in particular for this Doodle?

A: The foundation for the entire Doodle was the amazing phone call that we had with Jon (Israel’s producer) and Marlene (Israel’s widow). They were able to share their favorite stories about him and give so much context about who he was and what he was all about – even down to his favorite flower (plumeria). 

The Doodle is full of places in Hawai`i that had special significance for Israel: the sunrise at Diamond Head, Makaha Beach, the Palehua vista, the flowing lava and volcanic landscape of the Big Island, the black sand beach at Kalapana, the Wai`anae coast. We wanted to visit these places and see Israel’s drum in person, but then the COVID-19 pandemic happened, so I relied on the Internet, photos from Jon and Marlene, and memories from previous trips to Hawai`i. I also read a couple books on Hawaiian history and legends for context and perspective.

 Q: What do you hope people will take away from this Doodle?

A: When I asked Jon and Marlene what Israel would`ve wanted the Doodle to be like, Marlene (without missing a beat) responded, “Happy. Life is beautiful. He loved life.” They also said that no matter what challenges came up in his life, he never lost his determination to keep on going. So that is what I hope people will take away from this Doodle. 




Behind-the-scenes of the making of the Doodle

The kapa art incorporated as transitions in today’s video Doodle was created by Wai`anae-based guest artist Dalani Tanahy of Kapa Hawaii. Kapa is made from the inner bark of the paper mulberry tree to create a product that is used like fabric. Natural dyes made from plants and earth are stamped onto the kapa with carved bamboo stamps to create patterns.


Dalani with paper mulberry trees on her farm. These trees are used to create kapa fabric.


When asked about some of the designs and their meanings on these kapa, Dalani says, “There is an element on the brown kapa that references eyes – that’s the Kamakawiwo`ole reference, which means “the eye with no fear.” 


Close-up of the final kapa


She also used a design called “pewa,” which Dalani described as “a patch in woodworking, used to draw two cracked edges together and used extensively in old Hawaiian bowls and calabashes, where people would fix the item they had rather than have to carve another one. In modern use, it can mean bringing two sides together, or being a peacemaker. I used that design because Israel definitely did bring people of all persuasions together with his beautiful voice, music and personality.”  



Dalani planning out the kapa designs on watercolor paper


Style tests and storyboards for the Doodle



Learn more about the inspiration behind today’s APAHM Doodle, particularly in the midst of COVID-19.





Lead Artist | Sophie Diao

Producer | Colin Duffy

Marketing | Perla Campos, Grace Chen

Business Affairs & Partnerships Lead | Madeline Belliveau

Doodle Team Lead | Jessica Yu



Marlene Kamakawiwo`ole

Guest Artist | Dalani Tanahy of Kapa Hawaii

Cultural Consultant | Gabrielle Ahuli`i 


Mountain Apple Company 

President Emeritus | Leah Bernstein

Owner/CEO | Jon de Mello 

You can find more about Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s 61st Birthday on the official Google Doodle Page


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