Israel “Bruddah Iz” Kamakawiwo‘ole’s classic medley of “Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World” was added to the National Recording Registry today.
The Library of Congress, which oversees the registry, called the medley “melancholic and joyous at once” and praised Kamakawiwo‘ole’s vision of “contemporary Hawaiian music that fused reggae, jazz and traditional Hawaiian sound.”
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden made the announcement early this morning on social media.
The recording, featuring Kamakawiwo‘ole’s gentle ukulele strum and soothing semi-falsetto, appeared on his 1993 album “Facing Future,” released by Mountain Apple Co. It remains one of the company’s most beloved releases, said Mountain Apple founder Jon de Mello, who tracks the recording’s popularity through social media.
“I probably get maybe 18 to 20 alerts on blogs, other places, all the way through the week,” he said. “Just before Christmas, his YouTube video went into a billion views.”
De Mello finds fans’ comments especially touching. “They’ll say ‘Every time I hear it I cry,’ or ‘My father passed away and we used it,’ ‘My daughter was born last month and we used it and it’s her theme song,’ ” he said.
The medley has appeared in several television and film productions, such as TV’s “Charmed” and “ER” and the movie “50 First Dates.” De Mello said that someone from Sony Music, which licenses the commercial use of “Over the Rainbow,” once told him the song is requested nearly 500 times a week, and the vast majority are for Kamakawiwo‘ole’s version.
The production of the recording itself is the stuff of legend. Though released in 1993, the recording was actually made a few years earlier when Kamakawiwo‘ole called Audio Resource Honolulu — then the best-equipped recording studio in Hawaii — early one morning and asked to record something. Producer Milan Bertosa was about to leave, but stayed.
“(Kamakawiwo‘ole) went into a studio and sat down and did one take — ‘Over the Rainbow’ and ‘It’s a Wonderful World’ and walked out about 20 minutes later,” de Mello said. “It was a moment in time, and it was a perfect moment in time for Israel.”
A digital recording made at the time then sat in a drawer for three years before Bertosa brought it to de Mello and said, “You should listen to this, this is pretty good,” de Mello recalled. Kamakawiwo‘ole actually was reluctant to put it on “Facing Future,” since it had been recorded so many years earlier, but it was added to the album almost as an afterthought, appearing as the 14th of 15 tracks on the album.
“It was perfect, because people discovered other pieces of music, and then towards the end they got this English song that was just sparkly,” de Mello said. “It wasn’t a hit right off the line. It took about eight or nine months for it to get popular.”
De Mello said he was first notified of the recording’s consideration for the National Recording Registry about six months ago, but was asked to remain quiet about it.
In a statement released by Mountain Apple, Kamakawiwo‘ole’s widow, Marlene, called the accolades “a blessing for my ‘Ohana (family) and we are so happy to share his magic with the world.”
The Library of Congress adds 25 recordings to the National Recording Registry every year, deeming them “audio treasures worthy of preservation based on their cultural, historical or aesthetic importance in the nation’s sound heritage.”
This year’s list includes recordings by pop artists Jackson Browne, Janet Jackson and Patti LaBelle, reggae artist Jimmy Cliff, jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, opera singers Leontyne Price and Jessye Norman, Muppet Kermit the Frog and Thomas Edison, the inventor of recording technology.