Born Elmer Lewis Dunham in New England, this brass specialist moved toward warmer weather as his career progressed through the decades, winding up in Florida as a bandleader in the '60s. He had a sister named Louise Dunham who was a professional saxophonist, both siblings the products of a family that took music very seriously. The player who became known as Sonny Dunham was a valve trombonist at the age of seven, switched to slide trombone four years later, and as a young man began doubling on trumpet while a member of an orchestra led by Eric Tremaine.
Bandleader Ben Bernie had provided the brassman with his first major professional job in the late '20s in New York City, but Dunham had been gigging in groups around his local area since he was 13. He stayed with Tremaine for several years, took a short stab at leading his own band, and then joined up with the Casa Loma Orchestra. In 1936 he went with his own ensemble again, the venture lasting almost a year this time. Following the demise of his venture Dunham spent three months living in Europe, but by late 1937 was back in the ranks of the Casa Loma Orchestra. The new decade represented a new beginning for him as well, as he once again started up a version of Sonny Dunham & His Orchestra that continued through the '40s.
In the early '50s he took a brief respite from bandleading and was heard as a sideman with both Bernie Mann and the well-known Tommy Dorsey, in both cases demonstrating that he had lost none of his versatility under the pressures of leadership. For a while he was known as "the man from Mars" because of some of the high notes he blasted on the trumpet. His later bandleading ventures were concentrated almost totally on Florida by the '60s, and instrumentally Dunham was on trombone almost exclusively by then and was apparently regarded more and more as an earthling. Eventually he retired completely, a quite acceptable decision in Florida. He made his last recordings in 1974, and by that time had worked on some 158 recording sessions. His band, whose theme song was "Memories of You," is featured in a 1942 film entitled Off the Beaten Track. ~ Eugene Chadbourne, Rovi