Two show biz legends – pianist Rene Paulo, the patriarch of a family of entertainers, and recording engineer Milan Bertosa – have died this month.

Paulo (full name, Irenio Pagarigan Paulo) was 92 when he died peacefully yesterday (Jan. 11) at Tripler Army Medical Center. He and surviving wife Akemi Paulo were popular recording artists and a beloved lounge entertainment duo – he was on keyboards, she was the featured singer – at the Opus One club they owned at the Ilikai Hotel in Waikiki. They were the parents of saxophonist Michael Paulo and vocalist Kathy Paulo.

Rene Paulo at the keyboard.

Bertosa, a veteran sound engineer, died Jan. 1 at age 61 of an apparent heart attack. On New Year’s Eve, he was celebrating and prepping for the holidays with friends, according to his family, so his death was a surprise for all. Bertosa was an integral figure in recording the late Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” global hit song.

Paulo was born in Wahiawa and excelled s in classical music, studying at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. He embraced other genres of music including jazz, pop and adult contemporary, and was dubbed “Hawaii’s Favorite and Most Famous Pianist” while performing in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Tokyo. Paulo also joined son Michael in numerous smooth jazz gigs.

Earlier in his career, he recorded “Black Coral” on Liberty Records in 1959, “Tropical Heat Wave” in 1963, “The Best of Rene Paulo” in 1995, The Best of Rene & Akemi Paulo” in 1996.

 In addition to his entertainment career, Rene was in the Army and served during the Korean War.

 In a statement, Michael Paulo said of his dad, “As a child, even before I began playing the sax and not knowing anything about music … when I watched my dad play piano, I knew he was special and was not just another good musician.  The best way to describe my respect for him is when I say to people, ‘My Dad gave me enough talent from just his little finger to go on and be successful playing music on the world stage and play with some of the jazz and pop greats in our lifetime.’  I managed that with just a small portion of the gift he had.” 

He added, “That’s how great he was.  I chose to follow in his footsteps and pursue music as my life and I will continue his legacy for the rest of my life.”

Besides wife of 71 years Akemi (the former Lilian Tatsilp Shimoda), Paulo is survived by children Irenio Rene Paulo (Laverne), Michael Paulo (Terri), Victoria Tokujo (Roy), Kathleen Paulo-Hirai (George), Charlene Paulo Jubrail (Fadi) and Gail-Anne Namerow (Richard), as well as 21 grandchildren, 14 grandchildren-in-law, 42 great-grandchildren, 22 step great grandchildren and four great-great grandchildren.

 Other survivors include siblings Pablito Pagarigan, Olivia Simms (James – deceased), Susan Moniz (Theodore – deceased), Leonard Pagarigan (Jeanine) and Maria Clara Converse (Robert). 

Funeral services  are pending. …

Milan Bertosa at the sound board.

Bertosa will be remembered in a celebration of life event set for March  12 at Hawaiian Brian’s, though a time has not yet been disclosed on the venue’s website.

Bertosa, who had 700 album projects to his credit, is best known as the engineer on duty in 1988 when the late Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole showed up in the wee hours (3 a.m.) at a recording studio to do some work.

What Bruddah Iz did, as fans and the world would later learn, was render what would become his and Hawaii’s biggest hit, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” coupled with“What a Wonderful World,” when the open mike  recorded the tunes – in one take — complete with the iconic and historic “Ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo” intro and Iz’s altered lyrics to the tune popularized by Judy Garland in the film, “The Wizard of Oz.”

The recording would wind up in Bruddah Iz’s “Facing Future” CD, which Bertosa shared with producer Jon de Mello of the Mountain Apple Company, and ultimately included in the album released in 1993.

The tune, because of Iz’s unique take, was heard on TV’s “ER” and in such films as “Meet Joe Black” and “50 First Dates,” and scores of commercial jingles.

Bertosa was a Yugoslavia native, whose family fled the Soviet-occupied region, landing in Chicago when he was 7. He  relocated to Honolulu in 1988, establishing a reputation as one of the best sound engineers here, earning four Na Hoku Hanohano Awards.

He operated Audio Resources Hawaii, a studio just outside of Waikiki,  but moved to a Young Street destination which was the former Sounds of Hawaii studio operated by Herb Ono. Bertosa was chief studio engineer for the Mountain Apple label before working as a free-lancer.

He is survived by his wife, Maya. Friends have launched a GO FUND ME page to assist with medical and funeral expenses. …

Kaipo Hale

Around town

Kaipo Hale and Hoku Zuttermeister will guest-sing with Ho‘okena’s Horace Dudoit III and Glen Smith from 6 to 9 p..m.  this Satuarday (Jan. 14) at Kani Ka Pila Grille at the Outrigger Reef Hotel. Expect Hawaiiana fans to flock to this one. …

Jack Cione, the veteran entrepreneur and producer-director of the Follies revue at the Arcadia, has been released from the hospital to recuperate from pneumonia in isolation in his apartment.  By now, he should be cleared to resume life as usual including trips to the dining room instead of eating meals delivered to his room. …

And that’s Show Biz. …


  1. Waybe,

    Wow we sure are losing our entertainers so fast in 2023. I thought 2022 was a bad year but 2023 is starting off just as bad the same. My deepest sympathy to Michael and his family.

Leave a Reply