Earlier this year, the New Orleans City Council voted to rename Slidell Street in Old Algiers to "Red Allen Way" in honor of the well-known trumpet player and band leader, Henry “Red” Allen, who was a native of the Old Algiers community. Allen was only one of many musicians who left the community to make their way into the world of jazz in the early part of the 20th century.
His home on Newton Street was renovated by the Preservation Resource Center more than 20 years ago, and a historic marker is displayed in the front yard. Red Allen Way street signs have recently been installed from Brooklyn Avenue to Behrman Avenue.
Allen was the son of a popular local bandleader Henry Allen. He took trumpet lessons from a young age from Peter Bocage and Manuel Manetta, both well-known Old Algiers musicians at the time. His career began in Sidney Desvigne's Southern Syncopators. By1924, Allen was performing professionally with the Excelsior Brass Band and the jazz dance bands of Sam Morgan, George Lewis, and John Casimir. After playing on riverboats on the Mississippi River, he left for Chicago in 1927 to join King Oliver's band. Around this time he made recordings with the band of Clarence Williams. After returning briefly to New Orleans, where he worked with the bands of Fate Marable and Fats Pichon, he was offered a recording contract with Victor Records and went to New York City, where he joined the Luis Russell band, fronted by Louis Armstrong in the 1930s.
As a bandleader, Allen was an innovator and was praised for his “tonal colors” and enthusiastic performance, beginning each set with “Whamp!” even if it was a slow song. Allen moved easily from Dixieland to traditional jazz to swing and other popular music of the day. He became a prolific recording artist and received favorable attention in the U.S. and Europe. He recorded for Victor from 1929 through 1930. He made a series of recordings as co-leader with Coleman Hawkins in 1933 for ARC (and continued as an ARC recording artist through 1935, when he was moved to ARC's Vocalion label for a popular series of swing records from 1935 through late 1937). He recorded a solitary session for Decca in 1940 and two sessions for OKeh Records in 1941. After World War II, he recorded for Brunswick in 1944, Victor in 1946, and Apollo in 1947.
Allen continued performing and made many recordings with his own band, and also with the bands of Fats Waller and Jelly Roll Morton, and he accompanied such vocalists as Victoria Spivey and Billie Holiday. After a short stint with Benny Goodman, Allen began to lead his own band at the Famous Door in Manhattan. He then toured with the band around the United States in the1950s. In December 1957, Allen appeared with Pee Wee Russell on the television program Sound Of Jazz. In 1959, he made his first tour of Europe when he joined Kid Ory's band. He led the house band at New York's Metropole Cafe from 1954 until1965. Allen was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 1966 and died in 1967 at 59 years old.