Thomas 'Red' Kelly

The Red Kelly Collection is a special collection of the Tacoma Public Library. Established in 2003, the collection documents the career of jazz bassist, sometime politician and jazz club owner Thomas ‘Red’ Kelly, and collects and preserves materials related to his life and music.

Red with the Claude Thornhill band (c. 1952)Red Kelly’s story is part of a much bigger story — the history of American music in the post-World War II years. In recounting his story, the Library will also tell the story of the countless musicians who found themselves playing ‘America’s music’ in clubs in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Las Vegas and other cities across the United States and Europe. This portrait eloquently captures a time in our nation’s past when Big Band music dominated the airwaves and concert halls. In the 1950s when the raging popularity and sheer number of Big Bands declined, these musicians changed with the times. Their music reflected the influences of bebop, cool jazz, pop and rock styles. They, like Red, found ways to keep the sounds of the Big Bands alive.

Red campaigns to be elected Tacoma's MayorThe original material for the collection came from Tacoma jazzman Thomas ‘Red’ Kelly and includes photographs, correspondence, news clippings, scrapbooks, artwork, sound recordings, and ephemera. This material is being augmented through the collection of oral histories with Kelly’s contemporaries and through the addition of photographs, music and ephemera from musicians who played with Kelly throughout his career.

Acquiring the Red Kelly Collection was the first step in creating a valuable archive for writers, researchers, historians and our community. Here’s what happens next:

1. Preserve and document the images, recordings and other material in the collection;

2. Expand the archive through oral histories, additional photographs, recordings and related memorabilia;

3. Create a website that tells Red’s story and the story of 'America's music' in the post-war years.. This website will feature a searchable database of all the photographs and other material in the collection. What you are viewing is simply a promotional version of what will be a more comprehensive and interactive site.

4. Design and create a major exhibit that uses Red’s story to provide an overview of ‘America’s music’ in the post-war years. The exhibit would be shown locally and regionally. This is a long-term goal of the project.