By Jueseppi B.
A hat tip/shout out to Ms. EK Keratsis
Jeffries was born Umberto Alexander Valentino in Detroit to an Irish mother who ran a rooming house, and a father, whom he never knew, of mixed Sicilian, Ethiopean, French, Italian and Moorish roots, on September 24, 1913. He once characterized himself in an interview as “three-eighths Negro“, claiming pride in his racial heritage during a period when many other light-skinned black performers were attempting “to pass” as all-white in an effort to broaden their commercial appeal. In marked contrast, Jeffries used make-up to darken his skin—in order to pursue a career in jazz and to be seen as employable by the leading all-black musical ensembles of the day.
Yet, much later in his career, Jeffries would assume the identify of a white citizen for economic or highly personal reasons. Jet reported that Jeffries identified himself as White and stated his “real” name as “Herbert Jeffrey Ball” on an application in order to marry Tempest Storm in 1959. Jeffries told the reporter for Jet:
“… I’m not passing, I never have, I never will. For all these years I’ve been wavering about the color question on the blanks. Suddenly I decided to fill in the blank the way I look and feel.
Look at my blue eyes, look at my brown hair, look at my color. What color do you see?” he demand to know. “My mother was 100 per cent white,” Jeffries said, his blue eyes glinting in the New York sun. “My father is Portuguese, Spanish, American Indian, and Negro. How in the hell can I identify myself as one race or another?”
A 2007 documentary short describes Jeffries as “assuming the identity of a man of color” early in his career. He is shown in Black/White & All That Jazz explaining that he was inspired by New Orleans-born musician Louis Armstrong to say falsely, at a job interview in Chicago, that he was “a creole from Louisiana” when he was of Irish and Sicilian heritage, among other ethnic backgrounds.
Black White and all that Jazz.mov
Uploaded on Feb 19, 2011
Jazz singer and actor Herb Jeffries is still going strong in his 8th decade as a performer. The profile of him took honors in the 2007 My Hero Film Festival, produced by Betty Bailey and Carol Lynde.
In 2007, while assembling material for the producers of a documentary film about him (A Colored Life), Jeffries found his birth certificate; this reminded him that he actually was born in 1913 and that he had misrepresented his age after he left home to look for a job. His four marriages (including one to exotic dancer Tempest Storm) produced five children. He appeared at jazz festivals and events benefiting autism and other developmental problems and lectured at colleges and universities. He supported music education in schools.
In June 2010, aged 96, Jeffries performed to raise funds for the Oceanside (California) Unified School District’s music program, accompanied by the Big Band Jazz Hall of Fame Orchestra under the direction of clarinetist Tad Calcara. This benefit concert was his second (the previous concert was in 2001).
A Colored Life: The Herb Jeffries Story
Uploaded on Sep 16, 2010
On a project I’ve been working on at AMS Pictures, http://op.amspictures.com A Colored Life: The Herb Jeffries Story is an honest, entertaining, and often humorous look at a charismatic personality who used his light complexion to survive–and thrive–in both the black and white worlds.
Available for U.S. and international distribution
60 Minutes — HD
A jazz and popular singer, he starred as a singing cowboy in several all-black Western films, in which he sang his own western compositions. Jeffries obtained financing for the first black western film and hired Spencer Williams to appear with him. In addition to starring in the film, he sang and performed his own stunts as cowboy “Bob Blake”. He began his career working with Erskine Tate and his Vendome Orchestra when he moved to Chicago from Detroit at the urging of Louis Armstrong. His break came during the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair—Century of Progress Exposition singing with the Earl Hines Orchestra on Hines’ national broadcasts live from theGrand Terrace Cafe. His first recordings were with Hines in 1934, including “Just to be in Carolina”. He then recorded with Duke Ellington from 1940 to 1942. His recording of “Flamingo” (1940) with Ellington was a best seller in its day. He was replaced in the Ellington band by Al Hibbler in 1943.
Playing a singing cowboy in low-budget films, Jeffries became known as the “Bronze Buckaroo” by his fans. In a time of American racial segregation, such “race movies” played mostly in theaters catering to African-American audiences. The films, now available on video, include Harlem on the Prairie, The Bronze Buckaroo, Harlem Rides the Range and Two-Gun Man from Harlem. Jeffries went on to make other films, starring with Angie Dickinson in Calypso Joe (1957). He later directed and produced Mundo depravados, a cult film starring his wife, Tempest Storm. In 1968, Jeffries appeared in the long-running western TV series The Virginian playing a gunslinger who intimidated the town. At the age of 81, he recorded a Nashville album of songs on the Warner Western label in 1995 entitled The Bronze Buckaroo (Rides Again).
For his contributions to the motion-picture industry, Jeffries has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6672 Hollywood Boulevard. In 2004 he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. A restaurant in Idyllwild, Cafe Aroma, has a room named for him. In 1998 a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.
Herb Jeffries 100th Birthday! Interview about Joining Earl Hines in 1933
Published on Sep 8, 2013
It’s vocal star HERB JEFFRIES 100th Birthday this month! You are invited to his birthday party gala in Apple Valley, CA on Sep 28-29, 2013.
As part of Herb Jeffries’ 100th Birthday Celebration this month – I am presenting highlights from our conversations regarding his extraordinary life. In this segment we hear about Herb Jeffries joining Jazz piano master Earl Hines and his Orchestra in Chicago back in 1933. Earl “Fatha” Hines and his band were at the Grand Terrace in Chicago.
The Grand Terrace was a Chicago version of Harlem’s Cotton Club in New York City. Earl Hines broadcasted live each night on the radio across the nation. This was great exposure for the 20 year old Herb Jeffries who was now able to delight the world with his wonderful voice as millions tuned in to hear him live from the Grand Terrace in Chicago!
Herb Jeffries dies at 100; Hollywood’s first black singing cowboy
From The LA Times:
rb Jeffries, who sang with the Duke Ellington Orchestra during the Swing Era and made movie history in the 1930s as “The Bronze Buckaroo,” the silver screen’s first black singing cowboy, has died. He was 100.
Jeffries died of heart failure Sunday at West Hills Hospital and Medical Center, said Raymond Strait, who had been working with Jeffries on his autobiography. Jeffries had been in declining health for some time.
Known for his rich baritone and sensitive phrasing, Jeffries was a member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra in the early 1940s when he scored his biggest hit with “Flamingo,” which sold in the millions and became his signature tune.
“Jeffries’ version of ‘Flamingo’ with Duke Ellington was, and is, a jazz classic,” music critic Don Heckman told The Times in 2010. “Jeffries’ rich-toned ballad style resonated in the work of such male jazz singers as Johnny Hartman, Joe Williams and even Sammy Davis Jr. for decades after the chart-breaking success of his ‘Flamingo.’”
As the African American answer to Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and other white singing cowboys, Jeffries made a handful of low-budget westerns in the ’30s.
They had titles such as “Harlem Rides the Range” and “The Bronze Buckaroo” and featured the tall, handsome, wavy-haired singer with a Gable-esque mustache as a dashing, white-hatted good guy in a black western outfit and riding a white horse named Stardusk.
The idea to make movie westerns with all-black casts was Jeffries’.
“Little children of dark skin — not just Negroes, but Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, everybody of color — had no heroes in the movies,” he told The Times in 1998. “I was so glad to give them something to identify with.”
He was born Umberto Valentino in Detroit on Sept. 24, 1913.
“My mother was Irish, my father was Sicilian, and one of my great-grandparents was Ethiopian,” Jeffries, who took his stepfather’s last name, told the Oklahoman in 2004. “So I’m an Italian-looking mongrel with a percentage of Ethiopian blood, which enabled me to get work with black orchestras.”
He began singing locally as a teenager before heading to Chicago, where he started touring as a singer with Earl “Fatha” Hines. In the deep South, he was struck by the number of black movie audiences viewing white cowboy pictures.
Realizing the size of the potential market, he talked Jed Buell, a white, independent B-movie producer in Hollywood, into helping out.
But finding an African American who could ride, sing, and act was difficult — until the tall, broad-shouldered Jeffries, who learned to ride on his grandfather’s dairy farm in Michigan, nominated himself.
“No way. They’ll never buy you; you’re not black enough,” the light-skinned Jeffries remembered Buell saying. Jeffries said Buell finally agreed to let him play the part but insisted that Jeffries wear makeup to darken his skin.
“Harlem on the Prairie,” billed as “the first all-Negro musical western,” was released in 1937. Among the all-black cast members were Spencer Williams, who later portrayed Andy on “Amos ‘n’ Andy” on television, and comedian Mantan Moreland, who provided comic relief.
Jeffries earned $5,000 for the film, which was shot at a dude ranch near Victorville in five days.
Each of the films that followed were produced just as fast. In later years, Jeffries would jokingly refer to them as “C-movies.” But he took great pride in them.
“To say I was the first black singing cowboy on the face of this earth is a great satisfaction,” he told American Visions in 1997.
In an era when black actors typically played subservient roles on screen, Jeffries stood out.
“Herb was a sex symbol,” New York University film professor Donald Bogle, author of “Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks,” a history of black films, told The Times in 2003. “With his wavy hair and Clark Gable mustache, he might have been a different kind of star had America been a different kind of place.”
Three more musical westerns starring Jeffries were released over the next two years, “Two-Gun Man from Harlem,” “The Bronze Buckaroo” and “Harlem Rides the Range.”
Jeffries cashed in on his fame by making stage appearances with the Four Tones, his movie backup singers.
Touring in a Cadillac with steer horns on the front and his name in gold rope on the side, he’d do rope tricks, spin his six-shooters and sing.
While promoting his final film in Detroit in 1939, Jeffries showed up at a performance by the Duke Ellington Orchestra and was invited to sing. Ellington later asked Jeffries to join his orchestra on tour.
Jeffries, who began singing with what has been described as a luscious tenor, followed the advice of Ellington’s composer-arranger Billy Strayhorn and lowered his range to what music critic Jonny Whiteside later called a “silken, lusty baritone.”
In addition to recording with Ellington, Jeffries appeared in Ellington’s legendary all-black musical revue “Jump for Joy” in 1941. The show, featuring a 60-member cast that also included Ivie Anderson, Joe Turner and newcomer Dorothy Dandridge, ran for 12 weeks at the Mayan Theater in downtown Los Angeles.
Drafted into the Army during World War II, Jeffries sang in a Special Services company entertaining troops. After the war, he had a number of hit records, including “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano” and “Basin Street Blues.”
By the early ’50s, he had moved to France and opened a popular jazz club in Paris called the Flamingo and another club in southern France. He continued to perform both in Europe and the United States and played the title role in the 1957 film “Calypso Joe,” costarring Angie Dickinson.
He returned to the U.S. in the 1960s, settling in the Los Angeles area, and made guest appearances on a number of television series over the next two decades.
In 1992, a tribute to the singing cowboys at the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum — along with the discovery of copies of several of Jeffries’ long-lost cowboy pictures in a cellar in Texas — triggered a resurgence of interest in his movie career.
In addition to being rediscovered by the mainstream media for his role in breaking Hollywood race barriers on screen in the ’30s, Jeffries was featured in a segment of Turner Broadcasting’s “The Untold West” and scenes from his westerns appeared in Mario Van Peebles’ 1993 movie “Posse.”
The renewed interest led him to Nashville, where he recorded “The Bronze Buckaroo (Rides Again)” for the Warner Western label in 1995.
Jeffries, whose marriages included one to burlesque legend Tempest Storm, is survived by his fifth wife, Savannah; three daughters; and two sons.
Thank you The LA Times.
Herb Jeffries – Don’t Spank de Baby
I’ll Never Know Why (1951) – Herb Jeffries
Duke Ellington – Flamingo (with Herb Jeffries) 1941
R.I.P. “Bronze Buckaroo” Herb Jeffries, First Black Singing Cowboy
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. Below are two episodes of his work.
The Bronze Buckaroo (1939) Westerns Full Movies English
Published on Feb 14, 2014
Bob Blake and his boys arrive at Joe Jackson’s ranch to find him missing. While Slim cheats Dusty out of his money using ventriloquism and marked cards.
Harlem Rides The Range (1939)
Published on Mar 29, 2012
Bob Blake (Herb Jeffries) and his sidekick Rusty (Lucius Brooks) are two cowboys riding across the countryside in search of adventure. They come across a ranch where it appears a murder has taken place but they find the victim of the crime, Jim Dennison (Leonard Christmas), still alive. Dennison is hiding in fear of his life after what had taken place at the ranch. Bob sees a picture of the rancher’s daughter Margaret (Artie Young) and falls in love at first sight; he cannot stop talking about how beautiful the girl in the picture is. Bob drops a glove when he leaves the ranch, which causes problems later.
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 WesternsHarlem Rides The Range andTwo-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.