Herbert Jeffries has acted, sung, even ridden–his way to the top of the entertaining world.
In the 1930s, when white singing cowboys like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers carved out names for themselves, Jeffries decided there should be black cowboy films* especially since there had been many African American cowboys in the American west.
Born in Detroit in 1911, Jeffries raised money for his first feature film. Playing the part of Bob Blake, a fearless singing cowboy, Jeffries became this country’s first African American film hero when Harlem on the Prairie opened in 1936. Nicknamed the “Bronze Buckaroo,” Jeffries did all his own riding and performed all his own stunts. After starring in three more cowboy movies, Jeffries left movies to start singing with Duke Ellington’s orchestra. With that band as his backup, he recorded “Flamingo,” which sold fourteen million copies and propelled him to the top of the jazz world.
After running a club in France for a decade following World War II, Jeffries returned to the United States where he continues to perform. In 1995, at the age of eighty-three, Jeffries recorded a Nashville album of songs entitled, The Bronze Buckaroo (Rides Again).
Among his many awards and recognitions, Jeffries earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and induction into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. According to one observer in 2004, "The man is a marvel. In appearance and in voice, he seems a person half his age. . . . His voice sounds stronger now than it has ever been."
Here’s Herb Jeffries singing Happy Cowboy in the 1938 movie “Two Gun Man From Harlem”:
For more about Jeffries, check out herbjeffries.com. To learn more about other important African Americans in Michigan, order the book African Americans You Need to Know or subscribe to Michigan History or Michigan History for Kids by calling (800) 366-3703 or visiting www.michiganhistorymagazine.com.