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Sonny Cunha

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sonny Cunha, full name Albert Richard Cunha (October 1, 1879 – January 23, 1933) was an American composer, bandleader, pianist, singer, politician and entrepreneur. He was the first to popularize hapa haole music, a type of Hawaiian music with influences from popular music and with lyrics that are a combination of English and Hawaiian (or wholly English).

Early years[edit]

Albert Richard Cunha was born on October 1, 1879, in Honolulu, Kingdom of Hawai'i to Angela Gilliland and Emmanuel Cunha. He was educated at Saint Louis School and Punahou School and later attended Yale Law School in 1898,[1][2] where he was a star baseball and football star,[3] although he did not graduate.[4]

In 1903 he composed My Waikiki Mermaid, the earliest known hapa haole song. This was followed in 1905 by his first big hit, My Honolulu Tomboy. Other notable songs followed, My Hawaiian Maid, My Tropical Hula Girl and Honolulu Hula Girl.

In 1905 sextette led by Cunha played the entire summer season at a California beach resort in Santa Cruz. In 1906 he directed the Royal Hawaiian Glee Club on their tour of the West Coast of the US with the Royal Hawaiian Band.[3]

In 1914 he published the first hapa haole songbook, Famous Hawaiian Songs.[5] He played piano, sang and led a dance orchestra in Honolulu for many years, toured the mainland, founded the Cunha Music Company (which sold instruments and presumably sheet music). He also served as a member of the House of Representatives in the Hawaii Territorial Legislature from 1923 to 1924.[6]

His son was B movie director Richard E. Cunha.

He died on January 23, 1933, in Honolulu. He was buried at the Oahu Cemetery.[7]


  • Songs of Hawaii, Bergstrom Music, 1903
  • Famous Hawaiian Songs, Bergstrom Music, 1914


  1. ^ "Pg composer C".
  2. ^ Garrett, Charles Hiroshi (2008). Struggling to Define a Nation: American Music and the Twentieth Century. University of California Press. pp. 174–176. ISBN 978-0-520-25486-2.
  3. ^ a b Tranquada, Jim (2012). The Ukulele: A History. University of Hawaii Press. p. 61. ISBN 978-0-8248-3634-4.
  4. ^ Yale University (1920). Alumni Directory of Yale University [Graduates and Non-graduates]. New Haven, CT: Yale University. p. 508. OCLC 657021096. Retrieved 2013-04-07.
  5. ^ Cunha, Albert R.; Coney, W.H.; Meheula, Solomon (1914). Famous Hawaiian Songs. Honolulu, HI: Bergstrom Music Co., Ltd. hdl:2027/uc1.l0069685360. OCLC 13403547, 29479495, 824689048.
  6. ^ "Cunha, Albert R." (PDF). Retrieved September 11, 2022.
  7. ^ Grave Marker of Albert Richard "Sonny" Cunha. Honolulu, Hawaii: Oahu Cemetery.


External links[edit]