Kids of my generation knew it from the beautiful Judy Garland rendition in the Wizard of Oz.
Eric Clapton had fun doing a cover version of it in soulful and blue-sy fashion.
Victor Kim and Cathy Nguyen had even more fun with it, doing a truncated cover along the lines of Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s ukulele rendition.
You may not know the name Israel Kamakawiwoʻole, but you’ll recognize the melody and voice of his classic re-make which has become the stuff of legend. Consider this from NPR about his 1988 recording:
It began at 3 in the morning. Milan Bertosa was at the end of a long day in his Honolulu recording studio.
“And the phone rings. It was a client of mine,” Bertosa remembers. The client rattled off Israel’s unpronounceable name and said he wanted to come in and record a demo. Bertosa said he was shutting down, call tomorrow. But the client insisted on putting Israel on the phone. “And he’s this really sweet man, well-mannered, kind. ‘Please, can I come in? I have an idea,’ ” Bertosa remembers Israel saying.
Bertosa relented and gave Israel 15 minutes to get there. Soon, there was a knock at the door.
“And in walks the largest human being I had seen in my life. Israel was probably like 500 pounds. And the first thing at hand is to find something for him to sit on.” The building security found Israel a big steel chair. “Then I put up some microphones, do a quick sound check, roll tape, and the first thing he does is ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’ He played and sang, one take, and it was over.”
The next day, Bertosa made a copy for Israel and filed the original recording away. But he was so taken with it, that over the next few years, he played it occasionally for family and friends. “It was that special,” he says. “Whatever was going on that night, he was inspired. It was like we just caught the moment.”
Somewhere Over the Rainbow was included at the last minute on Israel’s Facing Future album, and it proved to be the song responsible for making it the best selling album in Hawaii’s history. IZ and I coincidentally share the birthday of May 20, and he tragically died in the summer of 1997 at the age of 38 due to complications from obesity. His ashes were scattered and likely to be found at some point, some time, over the rainbow.