EXCLUSIVE: Bruno Mars Opens Up About the Loss of His Mother

“My last name is Hernandez. My father’s name is Pedrito hernandez, and he’s a Puerto Rican pimp. There’s no denying that.”

“I’d love to clear that up in Latina magazine,” he says, raising his voice. “I never once said I changed my last name to hide the fact that I’m Puerto Rican. Why would I fucking say that? Who are you fooling? And why would anyone say that? That’s so insulting to me, to my family. That’s ridiculous. My last name is Hernandez. My father’s name is Pedrito Hernandez, and he’s a Puerto Rican pimp. There’s no denying that. My dad nicknamed me Bruno since I was 2 years old. The real story is: I was going to go by ‘Bruno,’ one name. Mars just kind of came joking around because that sounds bigger than life. That was it, simple as that. I see people that don’t know what I am, and it’s so weird that it gets them upset. It’s an oxymoron—the music business; like the art business. You’re making a business out of these songs that I’m writing. And how are you going to tell me that this song that I’m writing is only going to be catered to Puerto Ricans or to white people or only Asian people. How are you going to tell me that? My music is for anybody who wants to listen to it.”

An incredible number of people want to do just that. Mars’ combined sales for his first three albums are more than 100 million, along with his 2013 Moonshine Jungle Tour and his upcoming 100-date 24K Magic World Tour, which begins in late March and sold more than a million tickets in one day. Concertgoers will be treated to the Mars stage presence—an aura influenced by his family and the greats: Michael Jackson, James Brown, and Prince. Needless to say, Mars’ music is undoubtedly black.

“When you say ‘black music,’ understand that you are talking about rock, jazz, R&B, reggae, funk, doo-wop, hip-hop, and Motown. Black people created it all. Being Puerto Rican, even salsa music stems back to the Motherland [Africa]. So, in my world, black music means everything. It’s what gives America its swag. I’m a child raised in the ‘90s. Pop music was heavily rooted in R&B from Whitney, Diddy, Dr. Dre, Boyz II Men, Aaliyah, TLC, Babyface, New Edition, Michael, and so much more. As kids this is what was playing on MTV and the radio. This is what we were dancing to at school functions and BBQs. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for these artists who inspired me. They have brought me so much joy and created the soundtrack to my life filled with memories that I'll never forget. Most importantly, they were the superstars that set the bar for me and showed me what it takes to sing a song that can get the whole world dancing, or give a performance that people will talk about forever. Watching them made me feel like I had to be as great as they were in order to even stand a chance in this music business. You gotta sing as if Jodeci is performing after you and dance as if Bobby Brown is coming up next.”

It’s refreshing to hear a pop star say it loud and proud: black music is American pop culture. Latinos and African Americans aren’t just connected by the racism and dis- enfranchisement we’ve dealt with historically; we’re also connected by our music and traditions. We hear it in J Balvin’s reggaeton heaters and in Rihanna’s Caribbean patois, as well as in the eloquent, piercing words written by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Junot Díaz. We’re one. And Bruno Mars combines the best of all of our aspirations and goals into one super artist.

Above all, the world has to thank his parents for nurturing his talent at an age when most kids were still using pull-up diapers. While his pops gave him his style, his mom, Bernadette San Pedro Bayot, gave him his heart. After each performance, Mama Mars would call or text to congratulate him on another gem or to say to get some rest. The memory of her sudden death in 2013 from a brain aneurysm still shakes him.