Pioneering Black Singing Cowboy, Herb Jeffries, 100

HerbJeffriesHerb Jeffries, the first black singing cowboy of the movies, has died of heart failure Sunday at West Hills Hospital and Medical Center in California. He was 100.

Born Umberto Valentino in Detroit on Septeber 24, 1913 to an Irish mother and mixed-race father, Jeffries had the idea for an all-black Western after seeing the Jed Buell-produced western The Terror of Tiny Town, perhaps best known for featuring an entire cast of little people. Jeffries convinced Buell to make Harlem on the Prairie (1937), the first sound Western with an all-black cast. Jeffries also wrote the songs for the film.

Harlem On The Prairie proved hit enough to lead to several more westerns for Jeffries – Two-Gun Man From Harlem (1938), Rhythm Rodeo (1938), The Bronze Buckaroo (1939) and Harlem Rides the Range (1939).

But Jeffries foray into acting was only a sideline to his singing career. By the time he began starring in Westerns, he had already been singing with both Erskine Tate and his Vendome Orchestra the Earl Hines Orchestra on Hines’ national broadcasts live from the 1933 WChicago World’s Fair’s Grand Terrace Cafe. Jeffries sang with the Duke Ellington Orchestra both before and after his service during World War Two.

Jeffries also starred with Angie Dickinson in the western Calypso Joe (1957) and later directed and produced the cult film Mundo Depravados (1967) starring his then-wife, Tempest Storm.

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About Rich Drees 7195 Articles
A film fan since he first saw that Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the massive Imperial Star Destroyer at the tender age of 8 and a veteran freelance journalist with twenty-five years experience writing about film and pop culture. He is a member of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle.
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