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Songs of Remembrance: 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' brightened her uncle's day

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

President Biden is marking 1 million deaths from COVID-19 in the United States. He issued a presidential proclamation and ordered flags to be flown at half-staff. In a statement, he said, We must remain vigilant against this pandemic and do everything we can to save as many lives as possible. NPR's remembering some of those who lost their lives by listening to the music they loved and hearing their stories. Adriana Martinez of Santa Clarita, Calif., remembers her uncle Carlos Herrera. He died of COVID in 2021. He was 65 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF ISRAEL KAMAKAWIWO'OLE SONG, "OVER THE RAINBOW")

ADRIANA MARTINEZ: The song that I chose was "Over The Rainbow" by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OVER THE RAINBOW")

ISRAEL KAMAKAWIWO'OLE: (Singing) Ooh-ooh-ooh. Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh.

ADRIANA MARTINEZ: He listened to that song whenever he felt down, and he wanted to cheer himself up.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OVER THE RAINBOW")

KAMAKAWIWO'OLE: (Singing) Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly.

ADRIANA MARTINEZ: That song to me when I hear it - it was like his spirit. Like, it gave you hope.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OVER THE RAINBOW")

KAMAKAWIWO'OLE: (Singing) Ooh. Someday I'll wish upon a star, wake up where the clouds are far behind me.

ADRIANA MARTINEZ: What I remember most about my Uncle Carlos is his sense of humor. And he's always playing, like, little tricks on my nephews. Like, I think when we first started wearing masks, my parents owned a wholesale nursery, and he was just walking around the property, and my nephews didn't recognize him. And they were like, who are you? And it was obviously with the mask. And he was like, oh, I'm a customer. He's just so funny.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OVER THE RAINBOW")

KAMAKAWIWO'OLE: (Singing) Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly.

ADRIANA MARTINEZ: Every time he saw you, he always gave you, like, this great, big hug. And it was like, that's what a hug should feel like. When he hugged you, you knew he loved you. It made you happy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OVER THE RAINBOW")

KAMAKAWIWO'OLE: (Singing) ...Come true. Ooh-ooh-ooh. Someday I'll wish...

MARTINEZ: That was Adriana Martinez remembering her uncle Carlos Herrera. He died of COVID in 2021. He was 65 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OVER THE RAINBOW")

KAMAKAWIWO'OLE: (Singing) ...Me. Where trouble melts like... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.