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Herb Jeffries, Singing Black Cowboy, Passes Away at 100

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Herb Jeffries, famous for his roles as a black counterpart to Roy Rodgers or Gene Autry in films such as The Bronze Buckaroo (1939) and Harlem Rides the Range (1939), passed away earlier this week.

Jeffries realized the need for African American heroes in Hollywood and helped to create films to fill that gap.  As the "singing cowboy," Jeffries starred in a string of all-black Westerns, portraying one of the first non-subservient black protagonists in American film.  Due to Jeffries’ ambiguous race (his mother was Irish, his father Sicilian and one of his great-grandparents was Ethiopian) he became a role model for many people of color at a time when Hollywood heroes were predominately white.

In addition to his acting career, Jeffries was also well-known for his work as a jazz entertainer.  His rich baritone was put to good use in the 1940s as a member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra.  His biggest hit was the song, "Flamingo," which became his signature tune.

In 2009, UCLA Film & Television Archive presented the series, "African American Film Pioneers," which included both The Bronze Buckaroo (1939) and Harlem Rides the Range (1939), as well as work from directors Oscar Micheaux and Spencer Williams.  Jeffries attended the series in person and shared stories from his rich and adventurous life.

—Staci Hogsett, UCLA Moving Image Archive Studies.