Herb Jeffries, the smooth baritone, who recorded the 1940 hit Flamingo with the Duke Ellington orchestra, was also the movies’ first black singing cowboy.
Nicknamed the Bronze Buckaroo, Jeffries died Sunday at age of about 100. His exact age is uncertain. He made four westerns in the 1930’s: Harlem Rides the Range; Harlem on the Prairie,Two Gun Man from Harlem, and The Bronze Buckaroo, and created the character of Bob Blake. In each of those films he sang his theme song, “I’m a Happy Cowboy.”
Jeffries had wanted to be a cowboy ever since he was a kid. He grew up in Detroit, but he learned to ride a horse at his grandfather’s and uncle’s farms. It wasn’t until he was touring the south, with the Earl Hines Orchestra, that he saw segregated movie theaters, and thought about the need for black cowboy films.
Terry Gross spoke with Herb Jeffries in 1995. Here’s that interview.
Photo of Herb Jeffries via LIFE