Obituary: Chino Montero, 1962-2014

May. 2, 2014 | 0 Comments


Chino Montero — Na Hoku Hanohano Award-winning guitarist, falsetto vocalist, and an inspirational figure for one of Hawaii’s most influential ukulele players — died Friday of a heart attack after a short illness. He was 52.

Chino Montero at the 2014 Mele Mei Luncheon, Tuesday, Apr 29, at the Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel. Honolulu Pulse photo by Kat Wade

Chino Montero at the 2014 Mele Mei Launch Party on Tuesday at the Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel. (Photo by Kat Wade, Special to the Star-Advertiser)

Montero had been best known in recent years for his work backing other performers, most notably Amy Hanaiali‘i Gilliom, and as the member of two all-star groups, Palolo (with Nathan Nahinu and Troy Fernandez) and Manoa Madness (with Nahinu, Ioane Burns and Halehaku Seabury). He won a Hoku Award in 2011 as a member of a third all-star group, Amy Hanaiali‘i and Slack Key Masters of Hawai‘i, after having worked as a recording studio sideman on several projects that had won Hoku Awards for the artists who had hired him to back them.

Ironically, the year that he won a Hoku Montero had stepped outside the ballroom just before the winner of the Island Music Album category was announced and was not able to join the other members of the group in the group’s televised acceptance speech.

“Kawena,” an original song from his long-awaited solo album, “Made in Hawai‘i,” which was released last fall, is a finalist this year for Song of the Year. Montero  is also a finalist for Favorite Entertainer of the Year, the only Hoku Award category where the winner is determined by public vote. Voting for Favorite Entertainer continues through May 12.

The winners of the 2014 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards will be announced at the 37th Annual Na Hoku Hanohano Awards Show, Saturday, May 24, at the Hawai‘i Convention Center.

“At least he went out on a high note,” HARA board member Cindy Lance said Friday morning, adding that Montero had been in top form — and a hit with the audience — on Tuesday when he played at HARA’s Mele Mei Launch Party, the first event in a series of special events leading up to the annual awards show.

David Mario “Chino” Montero was born February 13, 1962, and grew up in Palolo. He was 11, a student at Jarrett Intermediate (now Jarrett Middle School), when he met Nahinu and Fernandez. Nahinu remembers it as an instant friendship cemented by their shared love of the ukulele.

“Troy Fernandez and I met him at the same time, the same day, because of our playing of the ukulele,” Nahinu said Friday morning. “He was my brother-in-arms all these years, and he wouldn’t want it any other way than for us to keep it going.”

Fernandez, a founding member of the Ka‘au Crater Boys in the 1990s, and one of the greatest ukulele virtuosos of his generation, has named Montero as the person who first inspired him to think of the ukulele as a lead instrument rather than as part of the rhythm section.

“In intermediate (school) we used to always carry our ukes around. Eighth grade was when we started to learn three-part harmony. Chino was the one doing all the solos but he got me thinking — that and listening to Peter Moon tapes,” Fernandez told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser several years ago.

Montero is survived by his mother, Lorita Montero, a brother, Dana, a sister, Dawn, a daughter, Charise, a son, Noah Rico Lacbayan, and eight grandchildren.

Funeral plans have not been announced.
John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for more than 40 years. Contact him via email at

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