I’m a huge football fan, but after a 22 to ZIP score by halftime and some boring commercials, all I could think about was when dinner would be served so I could go home and lay on my couch.
So it probably comes to no surprise then that my ears perked up when Bruno Mars hit the stage (or should I say the drums). I was already a semi-fan anticipating the halftime performance but I–like countless others I’m sure–subconsciously downplayed the event after hearing numerous “Who’s Bruno Mars?” inquiries heading into the Super Bowl. I was a semi-fan before, because he can actually sing, he’s a talented musician, and his songs are catchy. Still, he reminded me of a kid that was born in the wrong decade.
…well, he still reminds me of a kid born in the wrong decade.
But luckily (or unluckily), I chose a seat next to a fairly old man whose “friend’s son” plays the trumpet in Bruno’s band. He subsequently began to tell the room about the group as if he knew each and every bandmate. While I had to do some fact checking, it turns out that the men in the gold suits – also known as the “Hooligans” – are young, talented, and educated. So let’s meet the band:
Kameron Whalum III – Trombone; Hometown: Memphis, TN
Kameron Whalum, a Morehouse grad, has been playing the trombone since he was just a kid. He studied music at his high school in Nashville, TN and after graduating from Morehouse eventually went on to further pursue music at the New School for Jazz from 2009 to 2011. He didn’t graduate from The New School however, as it was during this time that he got the call to play for Mars.
Jamareo Artis – Bass Guitar; Hometown: Raleigh, NC
Born October 3, 1989, Jamareo is a bass guitarist and is well known for winning Diddy’s MTV Making His Band in 2009. He got his big shot however when he met Mars outside S.I.R. Rehearsal Studios in Los Angeles in 2010, “when he was just a short guy that only produced for others.”
“The most difficult thing is to dance and play in this band. We do some Jackson 5 choreographed stuff on stage, and it’s not as easy as you think. We get down every moment of an hour and forty-five minute set and you have to make sure your dancing is in sync with your playing. I try not to let that effect what I’m playing, because that’s the most important thing.”
Eric Hernandez – Drums; Hometown: Hawaii
Eric was born in 1976 in Brooklyn, NY. He is Bruno Mars’ brother and the son of Brooklyn native “Pete Hernandez”, who was the percussionist for Love & Money and Cecilio & Kapono. His experience is vast as he started playing professionally at the ripe age of 10 years old. He played 6 nights a week for 8 years with “The Lovenote Show” a Variety show paying tribute to the music of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. It was this unrelenting schedule that bred consistency in his playing and made him a master of all styles, including soul, funk, reggae, rock, etc. Commenting on his dad letting him play on the show, Eric says: “After each show the cast would go out to the front and take photos and shake hands. I took a lot of pictures because people were fascinated that I had the ability to play the show. My brother had a knack for singing. He was a young Elvis impersonator at the age of three or four so he took all the limelight, but I didn’t care, I just wanted to play drums.”
Phred Brown – Guitar; Hometown: Lathrup Village, Michigan
Phred Brown is the Musical Director for Bruno Mars and the Hooligans. His mother was a music teacher who gave him private lessons. He soon became fascinated with all types of instruments and ultimately went on to the University of Michigan to study music. The school made music feel too “academic,” however so he left after two months and went back to Detroit to start performing. Prior to becoming an official Hooligan Band member, Phred Brown was in his own jazz/funk band called Phredley. When asked about how he went about playing in local bands to touring with Bruno Mars, Phred answers:
“One of the cornerstones of improvisational comedy is the idea of “Yes, and” meaning I’m going to take whatever you’ve offered to the scene and add to it, so we can build together. It applies beautifully to building a career as well. There were times in Detroit where I played in 6 or bands at once, and through each of those bands I met someone or did something that helped us all grow and get to another level. I can look back to being a junior in high school and point out every connection I made that took me further or taught me something that allowed me to do more. I guess it’s all about accumulating information and meeting other people who are also gathering info and figuring out how you can help each other.”
John Fossitt – Keyboard; Hometown: New York, NY
Hailing from Rochester, NY John taught himself how to play the piano at a young age. He’s the ultimate go-getter as just five years ago, he was homeless in Los Angeles chasing his dream.
James King – Trumpet; Hometown: Stamford, CT
James has been playing the trumpet since he was 12 years old. He was referred to Bruno through his mutual Morehouse colleague Kameron Whalum. At the very minimum, he practices 1.5 hrs to 3 hrs a day. His advice for young musicians?:
“…submerse yourself with as much music as you can. Be able to not only find your voice in addition to being able to play different genres. Don’t create an unnecessary box for yourself when you can open up doors that will lead you to different opportunities.
Also make sure your personality does not keep you from opportunities. Make sure people not only enjoy your playing abilities in addition to who you are. Don’t let your personality get in the way of your success.”
Dwayne Dugger – Saxophone; Hometown: Queens, NY
Another Morehouse grad, Dwayne Dugger plays the sax in the Hooligans. He formed a band with some colleagues at Morehouse during his freshman year called “JASPECTS.” I was able to dig up the video above.
Philip Lawrence – Background Vocals; Hometown: Evansville, Ind.
Last but certainly not least we have Philip Lawrence. Philip was born into a very musical family, and like so many musicians in this band, never really got along with academia. He went to college and studied communications and theater for a year in Nashville, Tennessee but all he did was write songs. After a year, he left, did some theater and worked at Disney World for six years. Now, he is a solo artist, sings vocal for Bruno Mars, and is a part of Bruno’s production team, called the Smeezington’s (which also includes Ari Levine). He first linked up with Bruno in 2006 when a producer called and said Bruno was going to be the next big thing. Philip was broke at the time “with no money, no car, and it was going to cost me everything I had to get to that studio session. Plus, I was leery at first because everyone in LA says the have the next big thing…I get to the studio, and it was Bruno, and that session was the first time either of us had written and recorded an entire song. From that point on we never stopped working together.” Needless to say, they have written hit after hit.
And there you have it…the men who made Bruno’s show what it was last night. Congratulations to all of them on an amazing performance.