Exclusive: “Forever Proud To Be ‘The Son Of Bert Nievera’”—Martin Nievera Gives Tribute To His Late Dad
There are no words to describe how sad last March 27 was for local music icon Martin Nievera and the rest of his family. His dad Bert Nievera, who rose to fame in the 1960s, passed away at the age of 81. He reportedly died of organ failure caused by sepsis at Southern Hills Hospital and Medical Center in Las Vegas.
In an Instagram post, Martin broke this heart-breaking news through two photos—an old photo with his dad cutting his hair in San Francisco, which he captioned with “I can’t believe you’re gone. Life will never be the same again,” and one that shows him with his sons Robin and Ram and their grandfather, with the caption “#RobertinParadise.”
Haircut in 2nd Avenue, San Francisco
Dubbed as the “Timeless Balladeer” and the “Johnny Mathis of the Philippines,” Bert had a successful career in the music industry. Given Bert’s accomplishments in the entertainment scene, it came as no surprise then how his son Martin has become an icon himself and how this musicality has rubbed off even on Martin’s kids.
One of Bert’s grandsons, Robin, likewise paid tribute to his late grandfather on Instagram by captioning a photo with him with: “To the one who started it all. The one that keeps singing even though he ‘forgot the stupid words.’ Thank you for the memories, Lolo. I love you and I will miss you.”
It is indeed hard to forget such a good man who not only held a special place in his loved ones’ hearts but also had a lasting impression to those whose lives his music has touched.
Here, Martin remembers his dad with a smile on his face as he looks back on the many wonderful memories they’ve shared together:
1. What are your best childhood memories with your dad?
My dad was a man of very few words. So few that I can almost recall every time he would try to discipline or scold us as children, we always ended up disciplining and scolding ourselves. He never had a mean bone in his body and even at the height of his anger, he always was at a loss for words so we ended up finishing his sentences, almost giving ourselves our own punishment. Ask any of my sisters and they will tell you what should have been a moment for crying almost always ended up a moment for laughing. Aside from every magical Christmas we shared, this would be one of our fondest memories of dad.
Martin with his dad two Christmases ago
2. How did you see him as a grandfather?
I think he was a better grandfather than he was a father, because as a father, he never spoiled us—not that I could remember, anyway. But when I would see him with his grandchildren, especially with the new twins from Las Vegas, I couldn’t help but watch in envy. Even with Santino, my youngest son, and with Robin and Ram when they were babies, I saw my father transform into a child himself, doing things I never imagined he could do for a man his age. Dad lived for and because of every grandchild—this, I am sure of.
Bert and Santino’s birthdays are only six days apart
Bert with his grandsons Robin, Santino and Ram
Bert with Santino, Renee, Nicole, and Erika
Bert with Clay and Ceff
Bert with Alyssa
Bert with Clay, Carol, Ceff, and twins Maddox and Maxine
3. What are the three biggest lessons you’ve learned from your father?
Dad taught me many lessons, so to narrow it down to three might be close to impossible, but here…
1. Never talk back to your mother. Wow, you could have committed a crime that would immediately put you in prison and he would have forgiven you, but to talk back to your mother even at the height of an argument? Now, that was a number one no-no! For my dad, respecting your mother was the key to respecting everyone—man, woman or child. Looking back, I think he was right.
Bert with his mom, Lunas Jose Nievera Lizo Dela Cruz, his dad, and his sister
Bert with his sister Chita Nievera Barretto and her kids
2. Never lie. My father was a very forgiving man for as long as you’re honest and real. So to tell a lie or even stretch the truth was something he would not tolerate. Dad was always the good cop when it came to parenting, so for you to lie to him would be a real gutsy move.
3. Serenade the soul. As a singer, he always told me to look into the eyes of my audience and not just in their general direction. This is why you never see me looking in just one place when I sing. My face, my eyes, even my body pan the audience left to right and right to left again, just like how an ABS-CBN cameraman would do when directed to. For dad, the only way to one’s soul is through his or her eyes. He would tell me, “Ask yourself this question before you go out onstage, do you want to just sing a song or change a life?” I chose the latter.
Bert serenading the audience
4. What are the three best times you spent with him?
1. Hawaii. I had the best childhood any child could ever dream of. Living everyday of every week of every month of every year in Hawaii was simply beautiful. It was during this time when I got to really see my father in action as a father—teaching me the simple things in life, like pulling weeds from the grass and accidentally making me realize my dream of becoming a singer one day.
Our first year or so, we lived in the Outrigger Hotel on the 15th floor (room 1522). Every night I would watch him perform downstairs with the Society of Seven, and every night I would dream and imagine myself as one of the members of that group, singing for audiences both big and small. It all happened in the main showroom in that Outrigger Hotel on Kalakaua Ave. Honolulu, Hawaii. That room is now known as the Blue Note Hawaii, and I still perform there to this day. It has become a very sacred room for me probably because that’s where dad gave me my first set of wings.
Martin's mom, the twins, and Rachel at the Outrigger Waikiki Room 1522
Side story that really happened in Hawaii: One day, while pulling weeds from the lawn, a song on a radio that was usually always on when we were gardening played the song ”Cats in the Cradle” by Cat Stevens. Dad asked me to listen to the words. Then after the song ended, he asked me, ”Am I like that, son?” If you know that song, in a nutshell, it speaks of a father who is constantly leaving the son to chase his dreams and make a living, only to return to an older—sometimes bitter—son. I quickly answered, “No, dad! You are not like that at all.” Then after a few minutes of silence, I asked, “Hey dad, how come I am not a junior like some of my friends who are named after their father?” He said, “Well, because you were born with a twin sister, so Roberto and Roberta just didn’t sound right. So we chose Martin and Vicki.” I then made a promise. “Don’t worry, Dad, when I get older and get married and have my own children, if my first born is a boy, I will name him after you.” That’s exactly what I did. Robin my eldest is actually Roberto Martin Nievera.
Robin and Martin
Martin with his kids Robin and Ram at the Waikiki Beach
Martin, Gina, Vicki, Luigi, Rachel and Tere in Maui, Hawaii
Martin in Hawaii
2. Concord, California. Here, we were part of a family-owned burger place called “Roadrunner Burgers,” and here, dad and I would sing to the radio blasting while we were cooking, cleaning and serving our customers. This was the time he gave me a song to sing for a very big singing competition, and right there in the restaurant everyday after school, he would sing it with me and he would teach me how and when to belt and how to end the song in a big way. The competition lasted four days and the song was “The Greatest Love of All.” By the grace of God, with more than 4,000 contestants, I came out the champion. Dad, Vicki, Rachel and Gina were front row every night of that competition, cheering me on. What a precious victorious moment we shared.
The Roadrunner Burgers
3. Every Duet We Shared. Every song we shared was unforgettable. From the first duet we shared in 1982 (“The Best Gift” by Ryan Cayabyab) until the last duet we shared last Christmas 2017 at the SunCoast Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas (“The Christmas Song”), dad and I always found a way to make these moments special. Whether he was a guest or just in the audience, dad always stole the show. I have learned so much from him and his pearls of wisdom always came out during a performance onstage. Singing with him, I will miss the most.
Christmas concert at M Resort and Casino in Las Vegas
Christmas concert in New Jersey
5. What were his strengths?
Dad had many strengths, most of them onstage. He was a master of standing ovations. Back in the day and even during his latest performance, dad always found a way to make you jump to your feet and scream “Encore, bravo!” Another one of dad‘s strengths would probably be considered a weakness; he never could make a major decision without getting the opinion of the woman in his life. Some see this as a weakness, but I see this as dad’s way of making his love his life.
As a father, his strengths were in him always wanting to be more of a friend than a father. I guess, in his mind, he thought as a friend, we would trust him with our deepest, darkest secrets as opposed to keeping them from him. He also knew that we would never want to disappoint a friend. But dad’s biggest strength was his love and passion to perform. He would sing and perform for three people the same way he would for 300,000. He loved to sing. The immediate response we get from the audience was his candy and his cure. He was addicted to it. I am sure one of his biggest regrets in his life was that he was not able to sing more for us. He was not just a timeless balladeer, he was a singer’s singer.
6. What did you most admire about him?
One thing I admire most about my father was not just his singing, but more his love for peace. He just wanted everyone to get along. He didn’t like confrontations or conflict. I admire his simplicity and his desire to reach for the stars while keeping his feet firmly planted on the ground.
7. In what ways are you most like your father?
Like my father, I am stubborn, I am a neat freak, and I like the pretty girls. But more than anything else, like dad, I love to sing! My happy place is also the stage. The passion that flows from within me is the passion handed down to me by my father, and that is the passion to sing and perform for audiences around the world. And I hope and pray to pass on this same passion to Robin, Ram and Santino, with the hope that they embrace each dream with the same passion my father had for singing and performing. The same prayer goes for Vicki’s children, Alyssa and Erika and Rachel’s girls, Nicole and Renee. For all dad’s children’s children, I wish the same.
8. What will you miss the most about him?
The fun times—watching the masters or the NBA Playoffs with him, singing with him and our occasional breakfasts at IHOP, and the Christmas Eves that will never be the same without him.
9. What do you regret not doing or not saying before he passed?
I would have wanted him to be part of my next show where I, coincidentally, will be performing with the singing group he came from, The Society of Seven. I did this last year and I regret not having him in that show, so this would have been a good take 2.
I think I said all I needed to say. You’ll be surprised what you can think of saying to someone you love on their final moments. Although, I do regret not making it to his side in time to hear him answer me and this will haunt me for the rest of my life. Dad and I always said what we felt in the past, so I think everything we needed to say, we already said. We always exchanged I love yous and hugs, and I think this is a good lesson for children and their parents today, never hesitate. Say “I love you.” Don’t wait. It might be too late.
My father was a very proud man, sometimes even as he got older, the family in Las Vegas would tell me stories of how stubborn he was. I admire his family in Las Vegas and how they took such great care of him through good times and bad. I know that he is happy above smiling at all of us, even laughing at times. My father was blessed with family, everyone loved him and knew him the way we did. This brings peace to my heart.
Team Dad - Manila
Team Dad - Las Vegas
Luigi, Tere, Gina, Vicki, Martin, and Rachel
Cach, Jansey and Caline
10. What is the one thing you want to tell him now?
I would just want to tell him how much I love him and how much I’ll miss him. I think I speak for the whole family when I say “you were and will always be a great father.” You gave us fun and you gave us dreams. You gave us life. But the one question I really need to ask you is, “Where did you hide the remote?”
Dad with Uncle Danny Ruvivar, original drummer of The Society Seven
Bert with "Crunchie" the Lechon
11. What do you want to thank him for?
Thank you for love, thank you for laughs, thank you for family. Thank you for the gift of song.
12. How do you want him remembered?
He was more than a father, he was a friend, a husband, and a lolo. He was a jokester. But for me, he will forever be the greatest inspiration in my life, so I want to remember him fondly with happy thoughts and amazing memories.
The Society of Seven with 70s star Tiny Tim
Julius Obregon, Bert Nievera, and Jonathan Potenciano
Bert with Eddie Mercado
Bert with Eddie Mercado and Bobby Ledesma
The standing ovations have only begun, for the angels in heaven cheer for they now have the singer they have been waiting for: “The Timeless Balladeer,” my father, Bert Nievera! Let’s remember him and let his spirit shine in all our good works from this day forward.
I will miss you dad... we all will.
Ok, This Really Happened:
During dad’s final moments, everyone stood around him in a circle of love. Like I said above, dad was truly blessed with family and since my twin Vicki and my younger sister Rachel and I made it just in time, every family was well represented in this circle. During our final goodbyes and prayers, I was able to sing a short version of “The Lord’s Prayer,” and the musical accompaniment came from the alarms and monotone beeping sounds made by all the machines dad was hooked up to. And after Dad took his last breath, the tears and sighs overpowered and upstaged all of the above.
This went on for a few minutes until, finally, we were asked by the Filipino nurse—who, by the way, is my hero now—to quietly leave the room. Dad had many nurses caring for him, but the majority of them were Filipino. I now have a newfound love and respect for nurses and doctors, and I just can’t thank them enough for their tremendous efforts in trying to keep my father alive. I wish I could remember all their names, but during those stressful hours, I think that might be impossible. I am so proud that so many people all over the world are blessed by our Filipino nurses.
So, when the room was empty, my twin sister Vicki and I were allowed to stay with dad and in the next moments of complete silence, with all machines turned off, something miraculous happened.
Now, understand I am not a superstitious man, but in the middle of the quiet deafening silence, out of nowhere, a melody played from one of the machines. No light flashed so we didn’t know which machine made that sound. We all had practically memorized every sound each machine made, but this was not like any of the sounds we had heard for the last 27 hours. It was melodic, so my twin and I have decided that this was dad‘s way of saying goodbye. So, as we sat there in shock, I recorded this melody on my cell phone.
The notes that played were Db - D - Eb - C - C . I am not sure what dad meant by this mysterious melody, but I hope I can capture his message when I use this melody in my next composition.
My father was always a prankster, so this was not an eerie moment, but instead a musical, magical way to take his final bow.
Forever proud to be “the son of Bert Nievera!”
Produced by Christina N. Lopez
Photos courtesy of Martin Nievera