Red Calhoun, African-American jazz musician and bandleader, was born Henry Warren Calhoun, Sr., in Pine Hill, Texas, on May 8, 1905, to Marshall and Lutishia (Deason) Calhoun. The family moved to Dallas in 1907 and joined the Boll Street C.M.E. Church. After the death of Marshall Calhoun in 1919, Lutishia worked out of the family home to support her ten children.
Henry (Red) Calhoun became a master of woodwind (reed) instruments with his most famous being the saxophone. In 1925 he formed a nine-piece orchestra that developed into one of the area’s most successful attractions. The orchestra played in various locations around Dallas, Grand Prairie, Denton, Arlington, and throughout the Southwest. Popular musicians Thad Jones and Gus Johnson accompanied Red Calhoun’s Orchestra early in their careers. By 1930 Calhoun had married Gene Lewis of Dallas and fathered Henry Warren Calhoun, Jr.
In 1947 renowned African-American actor and director Spencer Williams commissioned Calhoun for the score of his film Juke Joint. Additionally, Calhoun had a supporting role in the movie as the orchestra leader of his “Jitterbug Johnnies.” Juke Joint was filmed in South Dallas and inside the Bagdad Club in Grand Prairie as well as in San Antonio at Don’s Keyhole, the club owned by Don Albert. Calhoun’s wife Gene stated her husband’s “work in the movie earned him $25 to $30 a day,” which was a considerable amount during that time. Calhoun also had a minor role in the musical Woman’s A Fool (1947), filmed at Dallas’s Rose Room. Anne Bell, Calhoun’s sister, joined the group as a vocalist in 1956.
In January 1964 the F.B.I. questioned Calhoun about one of his former employers, Jack Ruby. The report indicated that Calhoun and his orchestra worked for Ruby from 1950 to 1954. The partnership ended when an argument culminated in Ruby striking Calhoun in the mouth resulting in medical treatment to include sixteen stitches. Calhoun stated in the report that he knew of no reason for Ruby to shoot Lee Harvey Oswald; however, he noted that Ruby’s violent temper caused him to lose control.
Calhoun and his orchestra continued to draw large crowds up until his death in 1965. Buddy Tate remembered saxophonist Calhoun, who “played brilliant alto” and performed “the blues better than anybody I ever heard in my life. He never left Dallas, wouldn’t go any place else, but he could really have made a name for himself had he come to New York.” Remaining true to his roots, Calhoun turned down multiple offers to settle outside Dallas. He died of cancer on January 7, 1965, and was buried at the Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Dallas.