A Google Doodle Celebrates the Life of Israel Kamakawiwoʻole

The late Hawaiian musician, best known for his rendition of “Over the Rainbow,” was featured on Wednesday’s Google homepage in an animated video.


In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Wednesday’s Google Doodle celebrated the 61st birthday of Hawaiian musician and activist Israel Kamakawiwoʻole.


Israel Ka‘ano‘i Kamakawiwo‘ole, whose name translates to “the fearless eye, the bold face,” was born on May 20, 1959, the same year that Hawai‘i became a state. Also known as “Iz,” he and his brother formed the Mākaha Sons of Ni‘ihau, whose songs won prestigious Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards.


In 1988, Iz sang his rendition of “Over the Rainbow” in one take, which is now the soundtrack of the Google Doodle. With the help of a few Hawai‘i artists and Iz’s loved ones, San Francisco-based artist Sophie Diao was able to bring Iz’s legacy to life in the form of an animated video, which is available on YouTube.


Diao consulted Jon de Mello (Iz’s former producer) and Marlene Kamakawiwo‘ole (Iz’s widow) to help her come up with ideas on the Doodle.


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“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,’” Diao says. “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.”


Diao also consulted Dalani Tanahy, a Hawaiian kapa practitioner, and Gabrielle Ahuli‘i, a Native Hawaiian author and librarian, to help her come up with ideas on the video.


“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,” Diao says. “The Doodle is full of places in Hawai‘i that had special significance for Israel: the sunrise at Diamond Head, Mākaha Beach, the Palehua vista, the flowing lava and volcanic landscape of the Big Island, the black sand beach at Kalapana, and the Wai‘anae coast.”


The Kamakawiwo‘ole family writes in a statement: “[We] hope that the 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’).”