A few days ago I wrote a piece about country music performer Red Allen, and today I thought I’d follow up with the story of another Red Allen, one who was different in just about every way. But the two did share one quality — both loved to make music.
Henry ‘Red’ Allen was a jazz trumpeter and bandleader who also sang from time to time; a New Orleans native whose career stretched all the way from the early days of jazz to the late 1960s. If all of that sounds reminiscent of a certain legend, let me add that Allen would never approach the status of the iconic Louis Armstrong — but he did take inspiration from the star, and he forged a pretty impressive career of his own.
The son of a bandleader, Allen grew up surrounded by music in a city that celebrated it, then and now. He began playing trumpet professionally while still in his teens, appearing in the early 1920s with local jazz bands and various groups. Within a few years he’d migrated to Chicago to join the band of King Oliver — an early jazz legend who was also a hero for Armstrong — and by the early 1930s had become a part of the New York music scene, where he sometimes played alongside other rising young stars like Tommy Dorsey.
Throughout the 1930s and beyond, Allen’s talented trumpet play and raspy singing voice was much in demand as a featured artist for some of the best bands, and he worked with everybody from Benny Goodman to Fats Waller to Billie Holiday. He also led his own bands from time to time, finding a lot of success on tour and in later years even appearing occasionally on TV. Throughout his career he made many memorable records, and after his death in 1967 they remained as a rich legacy.