Jazz singer and actor Herb Jeffries, the first black singing cowboy to grace Hollywood screens, died of heart failure today in West Hills, CA, reports the LA Times. He was 100. Jeffries was born Umberto Alexander Valentino in 1913 to an Irish mother and a father of Sicilian, Ethiopean, French, Italian and Moorish descent. A singer with the Duke Ellington band and other pop orchestras in the 1940s, the blue-eyed Jeffries embraced his mixed heritage and played up his African-American roots. He made his screen debut in 1937’s Harlem on the Prairie, the first of many “sepia movies” he would star in aimed at black audiences. In 1939’s The Bronze Buckaroo he warbled tunes like “I’m a Happy Cowboy” and established himself as Hollywood’s black Gene Autry. He also starred in low-budget Westerns Harlem Rides The Range and Two-Gun Man From Harlem, and starred opposite Angie Dickinson in 1957’s musical romance Calypso Joe. Television credits include runs on the Hanna-Barbera animated football sitcom Where’s Huddles? and multiple guest roles on Hawaii Five-O. Jeffries played himself in the 1996 comedy Western The Cherokee Kid. He was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in 2004.
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.