Elmer “Sonny” Lim

“E kuhikuhi pono i na au iki a me na au nui o ka ike.”
Instruct well in both the little and great currents of knowledge.

Sonny Lim was born in Kohala on the Big Island of Hawai`i. He was raised on the vast plains of the Parker Ranch which used to be the second largest privately owned ranch in the United States. Sonny’s father, Elmer Lim Sr. was a Paniolo (Hawaiian Cowboy) and later did other work for the ranch. Sonny carries on the slack key tradition born amongst Waimea Cowboys over a hundred years earlier. Like Ledward Ka`apana, Sonny learned primarily from Ka`apana’s uncle, Kalapana slack key master Fred Punahoa, who moved in with Sonny’s family for several weeks to teach him.

The family was isolated in a world with little contact with others, having to create their own entertainment. Sonny is the fourth child in the family of six. Three sisters were born before him, and all his siblings contribute to an award winning family noted by the plethora of awards below. He said he was surprised at how many (awards) there were and had never listed them for any occasion until now. Sonny started music at a very young age. Both parents played and sang, so it was only natural that he and his siblings would follow the same path.

Known for their angelic harmony, they each specialize in specific instruments. With Mary Ann and Nani on Ukulele, Sonny on guitar, and Lorna on the upright bass, together, their instruments and voices combine to create the sweetest of sounds of traditional and contemporary Hawaii. In 2012, they received the Hawai’i Academy of Recording Arts Lifetime Achievement Award for Hawaiian Music.

One article from the HARA 2012 program says, “The Lim Family has excelled in every aspect of Hawaiian Music and dance and gained world acclaim, but continue to represent strong Hawaiian values.” Another article (Ke Ola Magazine July 2016) describes the same quality:

“It’s rare for a big family of talent to stick together, still living in Kohala, still performing together the old songs, even as they pack their guitars, ‘ukulele and pā‘ū skirts on a plane to Japan or Taiwan. The family is criss- crossing the globe on a regular basis to share with the world their pure, unadulterated style of Hawaiian music, oli (chant), hula, and cultural protocol. At home, too, they never stop singing and playing, whether at the lū‘au of Mauna Kea Beach Resort, at Mauna Lani Resort, or on a cousin’s front porch.”

Starting with Ukulele and Upright Bass a few years later, guitar became Sonny’s passion, especially Slack Key. The Steel guitar and Vibraphone would also be part of his list of instruments.

When he was fifteen, he performed in a gathering at the old Waimea Shopping Center. Five other teenagers stopped to watch him. The teenagers left to go back to Hilo and, in the middle of their ride to Hilo, they turned around to go back to Waimea to find Sonny to invite him to be in their group. Eventually, the boys all became famous when they played in the original group called the “Makaha Sons of Niʻihau” Two brothers, Skippy and Israel Kamakawiwi`ole, Louis ”Moon” Kaukahi, Jerome Koko, Sam Gray, and Sonny Lim.

Sonny Lim made history when he became the only musician ever to be awarded two prestigious Lifetime Awards: The HARA (Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts Lifetime Achievement Awards)—one in 2010 with the Makaha Sons of Niʻihau and the other with the Lim Family in 2012.

As an instructor and touring musician, Sonny got to play and learn from some of the greats of Hawaiian music….Gabby Pahinui, Atta Isaacs, Fred Punahoa, Cyril Pahinui, Palani Vaughn, Aunty Genoa Keawe, George Helm, Moe Keale, Eddie Kamae, Dennis Kamakahi, and Ledward Kaʻapana, just to name a few. It should be noted that Sonny is loved and admired for his humility and kindness, probably a trait that has been passed down for generations from a family who seems to possess it in that wonderful Hawaiian way.

Some of the accomplishments in his musical journey with his family and others include:

1970’s
Nā Hokū Hanohano Awards
1975-1979 Makaha Sons of Niʻihau
Albums:
1977– “Skippy with Makaha Sons of Niʻihau” 1978- “Keala”

1980’s
1981– Traditional Hawaiian Music Album of the Year “More Sounds from Kohala”
1982– Traditional Hawaiian Music Album of the Year “Pua Olena”

2002 – 2006
2002– Group of the Year “Nā Mele No Nā Hānauna”
2005– Member of the first Grammy Album for Best Hawaiian Music: “Slack Key Guitar Volume 2”
2006– Grammy Nominee for Slack Key Guitar “The Artistry of Sonny Lim
2005– Member of the first Grammy Album for Best Hawaiian Music: “Slack Key Guitar Volume 2”
2006– Grammy Nominee for Slack Key Guitar “The Artistry of Sonny Lim

2010 – 2013
2010– HARA Lifetime Achievement Award (Makaha Sons of Niʻihau) 2010- Nā Hokū Hanohano Kīhoalu Legacy Award
2011– Grammy Nominee for “Amy Hanaialiʻi and Slack Key Masters of Hawai’i”