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Jeffries, first black cowboy singing star, dies

Monday, May 26, 2014 – Herb Jeffries, the first black American cowboy film singing star, died May 25 of heart failure in West Hills, Cal. He was believed to be 100 year old, although various ages were given for him.

While considered the first black cowboy singing star, he had a mixed racial identity. At times, he said he was white. He also changed his name, led his age and married five women.

Jeffries was born Umberto Alexander Valentino in Detroit to an Irish mother and a father he never knew on Sept. 24, 1913. Some give the year as 1914.

Jeffries began working with Erskine Tate and his Vendome Orchestra in Chicago. During the 1933 Chicago World's Fair, he sang with the Earl Hines Orchestra on his live national broadcasts. He recorded with Hines in 1934 and later with Duke Ellington from 1940-1942. He had a hit single with Ellington with the song "Flamingo" in 1941. "Flamingo" sold more than 14 million copies.

Jeffries also starred as a singing cowboy in several all-black Western films where he sang his own compositions. He became known as the Bronze Buckaroo. Due to racial segregation, the movies mainly played in theatres for African Americans.

Among the films were "Harlem on the Prairie," "The Bronze Buckaroo," Harlem Rides the Range" and "Two-Gun Man from Harlem."

Jeffries also was in the TV series, "The Virginian," playing a gunslinger who intimidated the town.

At 81, he gained attention again by recording "The Bronze Buckaroo (Rides Again)," a Nashville album of songs on the Warner Western label. From a music standpoint, he changed form jazz to country and back to jazz.

In the 2000s, he performed as a regular at Café Aroma in Idyllwild, Cal.

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