Henri O'Kelly (1881-1922)

Born Paris, 14 February 1881; died Mériel (Val d'Oise), 26 June 1922; double bass player and composer.



Henri (Jean François) O'Kelly was the son of (Joseph Pierre) Henri O'Kelly and his wife Françoise Marie Clotilde (née Vacher). Henri junior studied double-bass at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris with Joseph-Napoleon Viseur (1847-1902) during (at least) 1898-1900. During these three years he received annual prizes from the Conservatory for his playing. Later he played in the orchestra of the Opéra Comique (source: Annuaire des Artistes, 1909, for at least three seasons, c1908-11). An even greater achievement was his membership in the prestigious Société des Concerts du Conservatoire. According to D. Kern Holoman's book and website about this society, Henri became an 'aspirant' for membership in 1913 and a member on 23 June 1914, but abstained due to illness from 1919, and resigned on 15 June 1920. Holoman writes, he "never served as Sociétaire" due to his illness. 


Henri was the editor of a book of studies for bass clef instruments (double bass, cello, tuba, etc.), published as Polyorgane: 160 Pièces pour les 'Cles de fa' (Paris: Édition M. Sénart & Cie., 1920). Of the 160 short pieces in this collection, 14 pieces are by Henri, 6 are by his father Henri, and 17 by his mother Clotilde O'Kelly, née Vacher.


His own pieces are the most modern ones in Polyorgane. Still, they are by no means avantgarde pieces. He is experimenting a lot with accidentals, frequent bar changes and other metric intricacies which often make surprisiing musical sense.


Private Life

Without doubt, Henri junior's life was overshadowed by his illness - which was probably related to a wound he received during the early years of World War I. The circumstances of his birth are somewhat curious as he was born 5 weeks before his parents published their marriage banns. He was born in the 1st arrondissement of Paris, at 79 rue Neuve des Petits Champs, while his parents lived at 155 rue du Faubourg Poissonnière, Paris 9 (Henri), and 70 rue du Faubourg Poissonnière, Paris 9 (Clotilde). Henri junior's birthplace was the shop of a jeweller called Alfred Erne, who acted as witness for the birth certificate. The street name doesn't exist anymore today - today's Rue des Petits Champs in the 1st arrondissement of Paris extends to no. 59 only.


Henri married, on 5 May 1908, Yvonne Marcelle Le Port de la Thuilerie who later signed as Yvonne O'Kelly de la Thuilerie. At this point in my research I have not yet found out whether they had any children - the online resources of the Paris civil registry offices extend to 1902 only. He later lived in the 10th and 17th arrondissements of Paris, but around 1921 (or early 1922) he moved to the village of Mériel (Val d'Oise) where he died on 26 June 1922.