|Articles, Arts, United States on 2014-05-26 21:33Z by Steven|
The Washington Post
Adam Bernstein, Editor
Herb Jeffries, a jazz balladeer whose matinee-idol looks won him fame in the late 1930s as the “Bronze Buckaroo” — the first singing star of all-black cowboy movies for segregated audiences — died May 25 at a hospital in West Hills, Calif. He was widely believed to be 100, but for years he insisted he was much older.
The cause was stomach and heart ailments, said Raymond Strait, a friend of 70 years who had been working with Mr. Jeffries on his autobiography. Mr. Jeffries liked to exaggerate his age to shock listeners. “He wanted people to say, ‘Wow, he can still sing pretty good for 111,’ ” Strait said.
Mr. Jeffries had a seven-decade career on film, television, record and in nightclubs. His baritone voice — extraordinarily rich but delicate — was memorably captured on his greatest musical success, a 1941 hit recording of “Flamingo” with Duke Ellington’s big band.
…Mr. Jeffries was coy about his background. He claimed, at times, to have been born Umberto Alejandro Balentino to an Irish mother and Sicilian father of mixed race. Other sources say he was born Herbert Ironton Jeffries in Detroit, probably on Sept. 24, 1913 — the date Strait said was correct. Other reported dates of birth range from 1909 to 1916.
He told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2008 of his heritage: “I’m all colors, like everyone else. If we all go back 10 or 15 generations, we don’t know what we have in us. I don’t think there’s one person from around the Mediterranean who doesn’t have Moorish blood. I have Sicilian blood, and I have Moorish blood. I am colored, and I love it. I have a right to identify myself the way I do and if nobody likes it, what are they going to do? Kill my career?”
Mr. Jeffries never knew his father. He was raised by his mother in a boardinghouse she ran and where many singers and actors stayed. It was this exposure to show business that led Mr. Jeffries to appear, as a young man, in Detroit nightclubs and ballrooms…
Read the entire obituary here.