Jazz singer and actor Herb Jeffries, who performed in a series of all-black Western movies in the 1930s, has died at the age of 100.
Known to cinema audiences as the Bronze Buckaroo, Herb Jeffries starred in four cowboy films aimed at black audiences from 1937 to 1939.
In 1940, Herb Jeffries scored a big hit with jazz legend Duke Ellington as the vocalist on Flamingo.
Herb Jeffries died of heart failure on Sunday, his biographer Raymond Strait said.
Film director Robert Townsend tweeted: “RIP Herb Jeffries, 1st Black Cowboy on Silver screen, my prayers with his family.”
Born Umberto Valentino in Detroit in 1913, Herb Jeffries said of his mixed parentage: “My mother was Irish, my father was Sicilian and one of my great-grandparents was Ethiopian.
“So I’m an Italian-looking mongrel with a percentage of Ethiopian blood, which enabled me to get work with black orchestras.”
Herb Jeffries’ other songs with Duke Ellington included There Shall Be No Night and You, You Darlin’.
As a Western star, Herb Jeffries appeared as Bob Blake alongside his horse Stardusk and the vocal group the Four Tones.
At a time when mixed race performers tried to lighten their skin, Herb Jeffries wore make-up to darken his.
He said in one interview: “Little children of dark skin – not just negroes, but Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, everybody of color – had no heroes in the movies. I was so glad to give them something to identify with.”
Herb Jeffries continued performing as a singer into his 90s. His last album was The Duke and I, released in 2000.
He was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2004.
Married five times, including to burlesque star Tempest Storm, Herb Jeffries is survived his fifth wife Savannah, three daughters and two sons.
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