Where Bruno Got His Start

The father of Bruno Mars – who returns home for three shows this week – talks about the star’s musical origins and the family that loves him

Peter Hernandez Jr. was born into a world of doo-wop, literally.

His father, Peter Hernandez Sr., had convinced the delivering doctor to allow the lights in the room to be dimmed low like a nightclub, while his choice doo-wop songs played on a tape recorder.


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The Hernandez family — that’s Pete Jr. aka Bruno, front and center. File photo

From that moment followed years of musical cultivation that led to the eventual success Peter Hernandez Jr. has found as Bruno Mars – a two-time Grammy Award-winning musician with fans throughout the world.

Though his fame has skyrocketed in recent years, at the root of his path to everything he has accomplished is a family’s love story.

Before Bruno

Born and raised in New York, Peter Hernandez Sr. grew up surrounded by musical influences, much like his son.

As a child, Hernandez would accompany his dad to gigs. There, he would hide under tables, watching the Latin orchestra his father had formed perform with musicians such as Tito Puente.

It also was in New York that Hernandez’s love and passion for doo-wop formed and grew. His fascination with the genre created “Dr. Doo-Wop,” a moniker that has been attached to him since age 13.

Growing up musically involved in Brooklyn, he says, was like living in a movie.

“I lived West Side Story,” he says, “without the dancing.”

At the age of 25, inspired by Elvis Presley’s love for Hawaii, he decided to move here.

After arriving in the Islands, Hernandez discovered there was little knowledge of or appreciation for doo-wop music.

“I said, ‘Wow, I would love to introduce the people of Hawaii to that music that I am so passionate about,” he says.

And so he did. Hernandez formed the Love Notes, a doo-wop revival group. At its height, the group consisted of 18 on stage, not including those behind the scenes, who played a role in everything from lighting to promotions.

Hernandez credits much of the group’s success to individuals such as Al Harrington and Tom Moffatt, who provided the Love Notes with many opportunities to perform.

The group no longer performs regularly but does entertain at special events – it was the opening act for Bruno’s last concert in Honolulu.

Now, Hernandez is working on a book, titled From Brooklyn To Mars. Detailing the family’s history and every key event that led to the moment Bruno left for California after graduating from Roosevelt High School, Hernandez hopes to dispel misinformation he has seen throughout the Internet. The book, which is near completion, also will feature personal family photos.

Never one to step away from music, he continues to conceive innovative musical inventions.

“I hope to be one of the first guys who ever combines beebop, doo-wop and hip-hop,” he says, of his latest project.

Becoming Bruno

At just under 2-and-a-half years old, Pete Jr. was introduced in Hernandez’s show as Little Elvis.

It was an act the boy had been cultivating after learning to use the family’s VCR to watch and rewatch videos of Elvis from Hernandez’s collection of memorabilia.

“He was a ham,” admits Hernandez. “As soon as he could walk and express himself, he, like, had to be in the middle of everything and wanted to be a part of whoever he’d seen on TV.”

Fans also may remember him from his brief appearance as Little Elvis in the film Honeymoon in Vegas. Still a young boy, he spent two full days waiting to be called to set. Finally, at the end of the second day, while Bruno slept spread out on chairs beside him, someone summoned Hernandez to bring Bruno to the stage.

A professional despite his age, Bruno woke up and did his job.

“Somehow, some way, he shakes it off and he got on that stage,” says Hernandez.

His desire to perform was unstoppable. His next venture resulted in his own band, the School Boys.

“And sure enough, they’d come out and steal the show,” he says.

In the years that followed, as the boy who would be Bruno honed and crafted a showmanship that has enabled him to stand out in a crowd of many looking for a big break, it was his family that continued to propel him.

“Bruno is the product of a lot of love from all his family,” says Hernandez.

“No woman could ever love Bruno as much as his late mother (Bernadette Bayot) did, and no man could ever love Bruno as much as I love him.”

Being Bruno

Just four years ago, Mars played a show at Royal Hawaiian Center. Tickets cost only $25.

This weekend, Mars will perform three sold-out shows at Neal S. Blaisdell Center Arena, which seats about 8,000. And as was well-documented, tickets for this concert disappeared within minutes and weren’t nearly as inexpensive.

None of this, however, has changed the way Hernandez sees his “baby boy.”

Hernandez says the family remains tightly knit. If he isn’t regularly talking with Bruno, they’re texting.

Talent and entertainment remain a family affair, with Mars’ brother Eric performing and touring with him on drums, and his sisters – Tiara, Tahiti and Presley Hernandez, and Jaime Kailani Bayot – making a name for themselves as The LYLAS with their own WE tv show.

Hernandez emanates the epitome of a proud father, with nothing but praise for his children’s endeavors. It’s an excited love for his family that is a barely contained, a palpable excitement that charges the air with an ability to put a smile on anyone’s face.

“I’m the proudest man in the world of Bruno Mars and his brother and sisters, and all the people who helped him get to where he is now,” he says. “I’m excited for him, for his sisters, for his brother. I’m so excited that I hope to be blessed with as much time as possible to see how far they go into the universe.”