On the Scene with Reggie Cunningham
Reggie Cunningham is an active entrepreneur whose business interests include deejaying, vehicle detailing, bitcoin investments and marketing health and wellness products.
Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser!
You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription.
Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story.
Reggie Cunningham’s father sent his eight children to a Catholic private school; the kids worked every weekend to help pay the tuition. All the hard work paid off for Cunningham when he enrolled in a public high school — he tested so far ahead of his classmates that he could have graduated a year early, but, since he wanted to enjoy “senior year,” he was allowed to go to school in the morning and work as a cook-in-training at a restaurant in the afternoon.
By the time Cunningham graduated he’d decided that St. Louis wasn’t a safe place for a young black man. He enlisted in the Air Force and was stationed in Indiana where he was the victim of a hate crime. The Air Force gave him a choice — he could stay in Indiana, fight for redress and lose, he said, or he could serve the rest of his enlistment in Hawaii. Hawaii has been his home since 1974.
Cunningham started working as a baker for the Spencecliff Corp. in Honolulu while he was still in the service. After completing his military commitment he went full-time with Spencecliff and embarked on a successful parallel career as a nightclub deejay. One of his most visible deejay engagements was at Reni’s, the nightclub run in the ’80s by Roger Mosley (the actor who played T.C. on the original “Magnum P.I.”) in a warehouse district between Aiea and Pearl City.
At 63, Cunningham is an active entrepreneur whose business interests include deejaying, vehicle detailing, bitcoin investments and marketing health and wellness products.
What is one of your favorite memories of Reni’s?
We did a Halloween party, and we didn’t think Roger was going to make it into town, so the manager found this big stuffed gorilla and put it in Roger’s (reserved) chair. He snuck in early and caught us, but it was a lot of fun.
You deejayed for years at military clubs that were shared by groups that did not always get along. How did you keep the peace?
I didn’t segregate the troops by their music. If you wanted to hear Garth Brooks, you got it. If you wanted to hear Tupak, you got it. I would play a Latin set, go into a country set, into a rock ’n’ roll set — I was even playing swing music and Hawaiian music. I’d tell them, “When you’re in my house, everybody’s the same,” and when they’d be dancing to the same music — country and hip-hop — they’d look at each other think, “You’re not that bad,” and they’d bond.
Going back to St. Louis, what’s the most memorable thing your father taught you?
I was 7 years old and with my dad in a restaurant. We were standing in line to order and this white man came in and said, “Don’t no n—- eat before me” and he spit in my dad’s face. My father just stood there. I saw the veins in his neck stand out — it was like the (Incredible) Hulk — but he just stood there. The guy went to order, and the owner told him, “Get the hell out.” He threw down two display counters. Then two cops in the corner got up. They’d been waiting for my dad to respond — if he had, they would have arrested him — but he didn’t, so they had to arrest the (other) guy for destruction of property. My dad didn’t respond to that racism, he didn’t let that guy win. It was a lesson he taught me without saying a word.
What’s your next big project?
A jazz show — “Healthy Jazz” — on Pinoy Power (KPRP-AM 640) where you can listen to awesome jazz and hear some healthy tips that will help you in your daily life. I hope to start it next month.