Lighting industry legend, Nathan "Sonny" Sonnenfeld passed away yesterday, February 10, at the age of 96. Sonnenfeld worked with Edward Kook and Stanley McCandless at Century Lighting, where he became the ultimate salesman and began his path towards industry icon. He became a manufacturers' representative, a member of IESNA, and a fellow of USITT. Sonnenfeld founded the Broadway Lighting Master Classes, which are now owned by Live Design. Learn more about Sonnenfeld's career here.
Below friends and other industry professionals share their thoughts and memories of Sonnenfeld in celebration of his life. If you'd like to share, please email [email protected] with the subject line: Remembering Sonny.
When I was just a “kid” trying to establish myself in New York, I was lucky enough to meet Sonny. Even when I had only a few off-Broadway credits to my name, he treated me as if I were a world-class designer. Over the years we became friends, and he would often just call and say, "Ken, we're having dinner tonight at a restaurant, and you should join us!" Those evenings were magical, gatherings of designers in theatre and architecture, all ages, just laughing and telling war stories. I was truly honored when Sonny asked me to be the inspiration speaker at Lighting Super Saturday when, in fact, he should have been the one standing up in front of the crowd; he inspired generations of lighting designers. - Ken Billington
Sonny used to call me fairly regularly just to congratulate me on something I wrote, expecting nothing in return other than another human being to connect with. I don’t know if he ever understood how much it meant to me just to get validation from someone so experienced and so well respected in the industry, but he always made my day when he would reach out. If you ever watched him work a room at a trade show or industry event, it was easy to tell that he made the day for everyone he came in contact with. His departure is painful, but his presence was priceless. - Richard Cadena
I was very sorry to hear the news that industry legend Sonny Sonnenfeld passed away at home at (to him) the young age of 96. I've known Sonny since 1983, when we met at The Juilliard School and he was selling them a Strand Light Palette. I have always treasured his stories, lessons, and guidance as well as the pages and pages of yellow legal pad notes that he would give Kathy and I with his ideas. We always loved seeing him and getting to spend time with Sonny. We count him as a wonderful mentor and will truly miss the opportunity to spend more time with him. Requiescat In Peace, dear Sonny. - Michael Eddy
I will miss Sonny. He promoted the sharing of his lighting craft like no other in the lighting field. He got people together, got them to share, and then got their children to share what they knew for the good of all. We will have to work hard to keep up his pace, as he was relentless and so good at it. I met Sonny a few decades past when buying dimmers and then again at the first Broadway Lighting Master Classes. Also in our thoughts are his family and Jennifer. - Chip Scott
We have lost a much beloved designer, theatre practitioner, colleague, and friend. Sonny Sonnenfeld was very special to me for his support in my USITT career and was always interested and helpful during the various stages for me of student, young professional and mid career. I shall miss his twinkling smile and his easy manner, as well as his vast knowledge of this business. Take care, friend. - Elynmarie Kazle
Sonny Sonnenfeld passed away after 96 years of being one of the most original and indefatigable people I've ever had the pleasure to know. I'll miss his smile, his hugs, and his incredible ability to care about everyone he met. He was a true survivor in a tough business, and nothing ever stopped him until now. Truly a legend. Godspeed, Sonny! - John McKernon
Sonny was one of the first sales reps to call on me when I started out in this industry. I found him to be the ultimate salesmen, never being too pushy, but always getting a good dig in there on why I needed to place the order right now! As we got to know each other over the years, Sonny made sure to always stop by a tradeshow or event and say hello, each time teaching me a little more about our industry. This is an icon in the lighting world that will surely be missed. God speed, Sonny. - Rob Riccardelli, Sr.
In 1997, Sonny Sonnenfeld was elected a Fellow of USITT to honor his incredible career as a pioneer in the stage lighting industry. Beginning at Century Lighting with such mentors as Ed Kook and Stanley McCandless, he really was responsible for so much technology that today is accepted as the industry standard. He was constantly active in USITT as a representative of the manufacturing sector but also as a mouror to young professionals wanting to know how one enters this profession. His work in the New York section of USITT and with such programs as the master classes in lighting bear testimony to his continual support of the next generation. As a Fellow, he was always at our meetings and kept them lively. Never one to fail to ask the embarrassing question about what we were doing, he kept me on my toes and often fed the troops with ice cream bars. His sense of humor was important to all of us. It is very difficult to imagine a meeting without my friend Sonny—he is missed by all of us. - Randy Earle, Chair, USITT Fellows
I only met Sonny once, but what a day that was. I was invited to the Stage Lighting Super Saturday last month by Jennifer Tipton, as a guest of Sonny. Jennifer has been helping me along In lighting design. We met a year ago and have kept in touch since. I am a senior in high school in Newington, CT, and as a young designer, meeting Sonny meant the world to me. I was invited to him and Jennifer's home after the Stage Lighting Seminar, and got to listen to his stories and advice for a couple hours. The fact that he paid attention to me and shared his experiences meant everything to me. In the few hours I spent with him, I could tell he was caring, compassionate, and really had a love for giving back to the next generation of designers. I may have only met him once, but I am honored to have made his acquaintance. He was truly a great man that really cared. - Marissa Michaels
I heard about Sonny shortly after I joined Strand. Once, I believe, after a Broadway Lighting Master Classes session he invited a few of us to his apartment, and I'll never forget Sonny taking the time to show me some old Century catalogues and talk to me about the pioneering days of the lighting industry that we know today. — Steve Norman
I first met Sonny in 1986 when he came into the office of Brannigan Lorelli Associates. I had only been there a few weeks and he came bearing coffee, donuts, and a big smile. On subsequent visits, he also brought along a yellow legal pad filled with suggestions about what I “should” do; like writing for Theatre Crafts (which I did), people I should meet, etc. Over the years, I got to know him personally as well as professionally. In 1999, when I decided to go out on my own as a theatre consultant, he provided guidance to me and reassurance to my wife, who was a bit concerned about what the lack of a steady paycheck would mean. From the start of our friendship, I knew I could always go to him with any questions/problems. He did not always have a solution, but often as not our conversation led me to an answer. I’ve always thought of him as a “rabbi”—a mentor—and I’m sure I was not the only recipient of his advice and guidance. I don’t know where I would be without him. – Michael Mell
Sonny was just a great person. He and Chuck Levy put me into this industry, which I appreciate. - Yutaka Mura
God bless, Sonny! I met Sonny in the 80’s. For years, I was a competitor or worked for one of his dealers; I never worked directly for him. In the mid-1980s, I was working with Charlie Davidson to get the ARRI Quartz Fresnels into the market. I often found myself crossing paths with Sonny during this time. He always had time to chat with me, and offer basic sales advice, as I was new in the Studio/Location Lighting sales industry. I know you will hear his basic rules many times over the next few days. Sonny was a legend in the entertainment lighting industry. I am grateful to be able to say that I knew him. God Bless, rest in peace, Sonny Sonnenfeld. He will be missed. – George Greczylo
There will never be another Sonny! My close friend Mark Vassallo and I first began working for Sonny in the early 1980’s. Almost 40 years later, and I often find myself saying “what would Sonny do” whenever presented with a difficult situation. Sonny and Mark interviewed me at a restaurant in Chelsea, and I will forever remember what he said to me: “It is important to make money and have fun; some days we will make more money and have less fun, and some days we will have more fun and make less money, but one can never replace the other.” Of course, I accepted their offer to go to work for them and not a day has gone by that something Sonny said or did doesn’t cross my mind. Like so many of us, Sonny helped me make a career out of what I love to do, and boy do I have fun doing it! Thank you, Sonny. - Bill Gallinghouse