HONOLULU (KHON2) — Hawai’i music has lost a legend. Milan Bertosa was linked to some of the world’s most iconic talent.

Bertosa’s friends and family announced that he passed away on Sunday, Jan. 1 at the age of 61 of a heart attack.

Get Hawaii’s latest morning news delivered to your inbox, sign up for News 2 You

Born in the former Yugoslavia, Bertosa’s family fled the Soviet occupied region; and he eventually landed in Chicago by the age of seven. He went on to win four Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards for his talents in sound/music Engineering.

He won in 1991 along with Jim Linkner, Dave Russell & Dave Tucciarone for Song for Someone from Henry Kapono; in 1998 with Porter Miller from Nā Leo Pilimehanaʻs Clouds; in1999 for Amy Hanaialiʻi Gilliom and Willie Kʻs album Hanaialiʻi and in 2001 with Howard Women for Nā Leo Pilimehanaʻs A Pocketful of Paradise.

But, his best-known work was on the Hawaiian version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World performed by Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole. That song became a platinum bestseller and the most requested song in Hawai’i.

Legend has it that “as Milan was wrapping up and shutting down his studio for the night after a very long and challenging day, his phone rang. A client told him he was with Israel, who wanted to come by and record a few demos. Milan’s initial response was to decline because it was 3 a.m. Israel, however, came to the phone to share his thoughts and ideas. It was so sincere and polite that Milan agreed and reopened his studio. During that midnight session, Milan recorded Israel as he sang a one-take-wonder performance of two songs: Somewhere Over the Rainbow and White Sandy Beach of Hawai‘i.”

  • Milan Bertosa at the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards in Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo/Eric Lee via Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards)
  • Milan Bertosa in his recording studio in Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo/Eric Lee via Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards)
  • Milan Bertosa at the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards in Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo/Eric Lee via Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards)
  • Milan Bertosa in his recording studio in Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo/Eric Lee via Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards)
  • Milan and Maya Bertosa at the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards in Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo/Eric Lee via Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards)

Bertosa had an illustrious career having worked with some of the music industry’s top engineers. Then, upon moving to Hawai’i, he produced some of Hawai’i’s most iconic music.

He attended Columbia College where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Communications with an emphasis in Recording and Sound Engineering. He went on to train with legendary Chess Records chief engineer, Malcolm Chisholm.

Milan officially moved his music skills to Hawai’i in 1988 when he opened Audio Resources Hawai‘i, a small recording studio in the Century Center building near Waikīkī.

This move put him in the position to work with legends such as Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole, the Brothers Cazimero, the Ka‘au Crater Boys, Amy Hānaiali‘i Gilliom, Don Ho, Kalapana, Willie K, Hawaiian Style Band, Cecilio & Kapono, Nā Leo Pilimehana, Mānoa DNA, Pacific Harp Project, Teresa Bright, Uluwehi Guerrero, and Aunty Irmgard Farden Aluli — only to name a few.

COVID took a toll on Bertosa’s music business; but according to those close to him, he had high hopes for 2023.

“Milan appeared to be in great health with nothing to suggest illness, even enjoying the holidays, cooking and celebrating with friends just days before his passing. On New Year’s Eve, Milan suffered a catastrophic heart attack that led to his untimely and unexpected passing,” said a close family friend.

Get news on the go with KHON 2GO, KHON’s morning podcast, every morning at 8

Bertosa is survived by his wife, Maya, and his dedicated music industry companions. Although he will officially be laid to rest in Chicago with his family, there will be a Celebration of Life fundraiser on Sunday, March 12 at Hawaiian Brian’s to help his family pay for medical and funeral expenses.