Doo-wop cop performed rock ‘n’ roll, and soul too

by Len Lear
Posted 2/16/23

His neighbors probably do not know it, but Stephen C. Kelly, 79, who has lived in Mt. Airy for 50 years, was once a recording and performing star. 

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Doo-wop cop performed rock ‘n’ roll, and soul too


His neighbors probably do not know it, but Stephen C. Kelly, 79, who has lived in Mt. Airy for 50 years, was once a recording and performing star. 

Kelly, who also worked for 55 years in law enforcement and was an instructor for security personnel at Chestnut Hill College (CHC) until Dec. 12 of last year when he was seriously injured by a drunk driver who totaled his car, was a member of several rock 'n' roll, soul and doo wop groups over many decades.

Kelly, who is now on injured leave from CHC, grew up in Southwest Philly and attended Bartram High School, when teenage doo-wop groups (also known as “street corner harmony”) were popping up like mushrooms in Chester County. “I was lucky to receive the blessing of a good singing voice,” Kelly said last week in an interview at his house, where his basement walls are festooned with framed photos of hit-making recording groups from long ago.

“Solomon Burke (a soul music recording star in the 1950s and '60s) got us to perform in a talent show at 16th and Fitzwater. We were called Terry and the Epsilons, and we won the show. So we got to perform at the Uptown Theater in North Philly with Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and The Four Tops. My own favorite group was Little Anthony and the Imperials. I wanted to be a star, thought I'd make fast money and then go to college.” (He did eventually go to Temple University for sociology for two years and the University of Delaware for one year, taking courses in law enforcement.)

In 1965, another group Kelly helped to form, the Volcanos, sold 65,000 singles just in Philly of a song called “Storm Warning.” The group later changed their name to The Trammps. Their song, “Disco Inferno,” won a Grammy Award in 1978 as part of the soundtrack for the iconic John Travolta movie “Saturday Night Fever.” Kelly even had his own music production company, New Day Rising.

Meanwhile, since a career in pop music does not normally provide a reliable, predictable income except for those at the very top, Kelly worked over the years as an operating room technician, respiratory therapist, Philadelphia police officer, Pennsylvania Justice Department investigator and U.S. Department of Defense criminal investigator. In 2003, he established his own record company, Pretty Boy Records, and managed and recorded jazz and gospel groups such as Northbound and the Metropolitan Male Ensemble. 

In 2016, Kelly and The Volcanos were asked to come to England, where they played for 6,000 people at three venues. “In the U.K., it is like it was here in 1957,” Kelly said. “They love the early rock 'n' roll and doo wop. Young people, too. One lady said, 'I flew here all the way from Amsterdam to see you, Stephen.'” 

Later this year, Kelly and The Volcanos will be going back on a U.K. tour with The Tymes, another Philly group that had big hits in the 1960s with “So Much in Love” and “Wonderful, Wonderful.”

Kelly has also written a book, “Behind the Curtains” (Friesen Press) that tells the behind-the-scenes story of these early Philly rock 'n' roll groups. You might say it is Philadelphia’s Motown story. In fact, Smokey Robinson once tried to purchase the band, a deal halted by a stubborn manager.

Perhaps the best illustration of the group’s work ethic is that after performing one night on Jerry Blavat’s television show “The Discophonic Scene,” in 1965, Kelly went to work the following morning at his day job. “I always had my left foot in the music industry and my right foot in 9-to-5 work, but the music kept me sane.” said Kelly, who lives in Mt. Airy with his wife of 40 years, Gwendolyn Jane Kelly, and the couple’s Bichon-Shih Tzu pup, Kodi.

“I admit I'm a workaholic,” Kelly added, “but having a clear conscience keeps me afloat. Tomorrow is not promised to you, so get something out of each day. If you say you are going to do something, then do it. I like to make people laugh and bring out the best in them. In this (music) business, the bright lights can get to some people, but I feel if I can help someone, my living will not have been in vain.”

For more information or to obtain a copy of “Behind the Curtains,” email or visit or Len Lear can be reached at