Beginning his musical career when he was barely more than a toddler, Bruno Mars is still a young man. In those few years, however, he has become known throughout the world for his eclectic style and groundbreaking music, reaching the top of Billboard charts in numbers and with speed only surpassed by Elvis Presley. With two albums and many singles released, and another album on the way, Mars is also actively touring to bring his music to audiences around the world.

At age 6, Bruno Mars was performing as an Elvis impersonator – a cute kid who entertained his audience, to be sure, but it was still just a specialty act. Yet, when he was still in his 20s, he was the opening act of the Super Bowl halftime show in 2014. How is that even possible? For Bruno Mars, it was a natural progression, for he is a man who loves music – all kinds of music – and performing is in his blood.

Born in Hawaii on October 8, 1985 as Peter Gene Hernandez, this musician, songwriter, record producer and choreographer is now known to the world as Bruno Mars. It was almost inevitable that he should make a career in music: His father, Peter Hernandez, who came from Brooklyn, New York of Puerto Rican and European Jewish heritage, and his mother, Bernadette “Bernie” Bayot Hernandez, born in the Philippines, led a band in Hawaii that specialized in old-fashioned do-whop music. An uncle – who gave young Peter his nickname “Bruno” because the boy reminded him of a professional wrestler of the same name – was an Elvis impersonator who also performed in the islands, and whose example inspired young Bruno to take the stage. The act not only brought him a measure of local fame but landed a cameo role in the motion picture Honeymoon in Vegas in 1992, when he was just 7 years old.

In addition to belting out songs by The King, Bruno also performed with his parents’ band, The Love Notes, in numbers made famous by Michael Jackson, The Isley Brothers and The Temptations. Living in Hawaii, a crossroads of cultures and musical styles, Bruno was exposed to, and came to love, reggae, R&B, soul, funk and rock classics by such artists as Jimi Hendrix. By high school he was in his own band – of course – called The School Boys.

Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars (centre) & The Smeezingtons at the 54th Annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Centre, Los Angeles.
Photo: Paul Smith / Featureflash

Los Angeles

After graduating from high school, Bruno moved to Los Angeles to begin a career. Keeping his childhood nickname, he also created a stage last name Mars because he did not want his birth name – Hernandez – to have him stereotyped as a musician who could just play Latin music. He chose Mars, he later explained, “because girls thought I was out of this world – so why not Mars?” He signed with Motown Records in 2004, but the deal did not lead to any recordings.

Frustrated, he began to build relationships with other musicians and professions in the industry. Meeting the likes of songwriter and producer Philip Lawrence, Steve Lindsey and Cameron Strang convinced him that he should change his focus to songwriting and producing songs. Working with Lindsey and Jeff Bhasker, Mars began to play cover songs in a band in the Los Angeles area. These contacts and experience eventually led to his first break, when he and Lawrence sold a song, “Lost,” to a producer for $20,000. He began to become an acknowledged music producer and songwriter, working with many artists, sometimes also providing background vocals on their albums.

Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars in the Press Room at the American Music Awards at Nokia Theater in Los Angeles, CA.
Photo: Helga Esteb

Solo Artist

It was the year 2009 when Bruno Mars’ career began to take off. Co-writing and performing on the B.o.B. song “Nothing on You” and “Billionaire” with Travie McCoy, brought him attention when both songs reached the top ten charts worldwide. Now signed with Atlantic Records, Mars reduced his debut extended play It’s Better If You Don’t Understand in 2011, which reached 99th on the Billboard 200. This was followed up with his debut studio album, Doo-Wops & Hooligans which reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. The album also spun off four singles, “Liquor Store Blues,” “Grenade” (which reached number one with Billboard), “The Lazy Song” and “Marry You.”

A 14-month tour to promote the album also helped Mars build a fan base. It didn’t hurt that he also won a 2011 Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. By the end of the next year, he released the album Unorthodox Jukebox which debuted at number two – and soon reached number one – on Billboard, as did one of the singles from the album, “When I Was Your Man.” Ironically, Mars became only the second artist to so quickly achieve so many number-one songs on Billboard… after Elvis Presley.

Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars at the Grammy Nominations Concert Live, Club Nokia, Los Angeles.
Photo: S. Bukley

The Success Continues

While his albums are produced in a studio, Mars’ first love is live performance. Speaking with Interview Magazine in 2012, he said about the stage,“That is what I’m most excited for – taking these songs and traveling them around the world… I think people are really going to gravitate towards the live show. We turn it into a party.” He added in an interview with the magazine Idolater, “I’m comfortable on the stage. I grew up doing the show stuff, performing live band and talent shows and all that… that’s the fun part for me.”

Touring in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and the Pacific Islands, he has also appeared as the musical guest and host for Saturday Night Live and in the motion picture Rio 2. His halftime show at the 2014 Super Bowl (where he was joined by The Red Hot Chili Peppers) drew a record rating of 115.3 million viewers.

“No matter where I perform,” he said during a press conference before the Super Bowl show, “it’s my job to uplift the people – whether I’m playing at a graduation party, wedding, bar mitzvah, Grammys, Super Bowl. I’m gonna give it all I got.”

Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars (right) at the MTV Video Music Awards, Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE, Los Angeles, CA.
Photo: S. Bukley

A Young Star, But Not an Instant One

Despite his young age – just 30 years old – Bruno Mars acknowledges that, despite his early start performing music, he still had to get more experience in the wider music world and learn the business of songwriting and production. “I realized that you have to go into this industry as an artist with a clear vision and understanding of who you are. Being so young when I first signed [with Motown Records], I never really had a sense of who I wanted to be. Now things are really working out because everything that I’m singing, writing and composing is really me.”

The “me” in Bruno Mars, however, is always open to new experiences and as wide a range of musical styles as he can expose himself to. He admits that he is constantly listening to everything he can, from classical music to The Beach Boys and everything in between. His influences cover the entire range of performers, including Michael Jackson to the hip-hop producer Timbaland to The Police and Led Zeppelin.

He also shares his love of music through giving. He has recently partnered with the Hawaii’s Community Foundation and the GRAMMY Foundation to establish a scholarship fund in Hawaii, to provide financial assistance for applicants to attend music camp. Mars has also donated $100,000 to children orphaned by Typhoon Haiyan, one of the deadliest storms to strike the Philippines. In addition, Mars performs at charitable events to raise money for the poor and homeless.

Meanwhile, his work goes on. Even with his profound love of music, Mars realizes that producing and performing requires dedication and effort. During an interview with GQ Magazine, Mars reflected, “Do you know how hard it is to write a big song? That s*** is hard, man. It’s so hard to do. Might be one of the hardest things to ever do. I don’t ever want to come out with something safe and get away with ‘it sounds good!’ It’s got to be more than sounding good. The music I like are events.”