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|Also Known As:||Jim Jeffries||Died:|
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Herbert Jeffries was an jazz singer and actor who starred in African-American-oriented "race" films such as the Westerns "Harlem on the Prairie" (1937) and "The Bronze Buckaroo" (1939). He was born Umberto Alexander Valentino in Detroit, Michigan on September 24, 1913. Jeffries' mother was Irish and his father, whom he never knew, was of Sicilian, French, Italian, and African-American descent. (Jeffries referred to himself as "three-eighths Negro," and spoke proudly of his multi-ethnic heritage throughout his career.) Early in his career, Jeffries was an aspiring jazz musician and moved to Chicago to seek greater opportunities than what his native Detroit could offer. One of those opportunities was singing for noted jazz pianist Earl Hines at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair, which eventually led to their collaboration in the 1934 song "Just to Be in Carolina." In the late 1930s, Jeffries took his singing talents to the big screen when he made his feature film debut in the Western musical "Harlem on the Prairie" in 1937. Jeffries starred in several other Western "race" films, which included 1939's "The Bronze Buckaroo," where he played his most famous role as the black cowboy Bob Blake. After a stint as the male singer in Duke Ellington's orchestra from 1940 to 1942 (during which he sang lead on one of Ellington's signature hits, "Flamingo"), Jeffries continued acting for another three decades, making his final screen appearance in the thriller "Portrait of a Hitman" (1979). As one of the earliest actors to represent African-Americans through his contributions to the motion picture industry, Jeffries was given a star at the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Jeffries lived until the age of 100, dying on May 25, 2014. "The Bronze Buckaroo" rode into the sunset as a pioneer for African-Americans in Hollywood.
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