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1996 Hall of Fame Honoree

Albert R. "Sonny" Cunha


"Father of Hapa Haole Songs", "Sonny" Cunha was the first Hawaiian composer to popularize Hawaiian songs with English lyrics. His first song was "Waikiki Mermaid" composed in 1903, followed by his big hit "Honolulu Tom Boy" in 1905. His composition "Hula Blues" is still a popular standard, as is "On the Beach at Waikiki", which he re-wrote from Henry Kailimai's tune. While a law student at Yale University, "Sonny" Cunha wrote Yale's now-famous school song, "Boola Boola", the melody for which was taken from "Moanalu Hula".

After his graduation from Yale, "Sonny" decided rather than the practice of law, he would return to his first love - Hawaiian music. Already a gifted composer, arranger, pianist and singer, he chose to tour the mainland U. S. with his own group, combining Hawaiian music with the already popular and danceable American "ragtime" rhythm. He continued this influence in Hawai`i, making musical history at the Hawaii Theatre, where Hawaiians began dancing to his imported tempo. The bright, upbeat rhythm of the hapa haole song brought recognition to Hawai`i from the entire world, and it was picked up and incorporated in the compositions and arrangements of the Hawaiian musicians who followed. The musical precedent he established has continued to the present day.

Another of "Sonny" Cunha's major contributions was the publication and marketing of these songs. He played an important role with a substantial number of his hapa haole songs featured in "Famous Hawaiian Songs" published by Bergstrom Music Company in 1914.

A consummate musician, he was also interested in march, opera and light classical music, and was at one time a director of the Royal Hawaiian Band Glee Club and musical director for the Fatty Arbuckle Musical Troupe at the Hawaiian Opera House. Unfortunately, "Sonny" Cunha's voice was never recorded although his songs are regularly listed among the most popular Hawaiian recordings.

Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame
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