Herb Jeffries Dies: 'Bronze Buckaroo' Singer Has Heart Failure at 100

Image: Herb Jeffries Dies: 'Bronze Buckaroo' Singer Has Heart Failure at 100

Tuesday, 27 May 2014 02:59 PM

By Jonna Lorenz

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Singing cowboy Herb Jeffries, who was known as “the Bronze Buckaroo,” died of heart failure Sunday morning at age 100.

Jeffries appeared in western movies in the 1930s, including “Harlem Rides the Range” and “Harlem on the Prairie.” He also performed with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and on television shows including “Hawaii Five-O” and “I Dream of Jeannie.”

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Raymond Strait, who worked with Jeffries on his autobiography, told The Associated Press that Jeffries "believed in one world and one people and was one of the most generous people I've ever met. He was always funding something or doing something for kids."

The autobiography, “Color of Love,” hasn’t been published yet.

Jeffries described himself as an Italian-looking mongrel, with Irish, Sicilian and Ethiopian heritage, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Jazz critic Gary Giddins told the New York Times that Jeffries chose to identify as black. “He told me he had to make this decision about whether he should try to pass as white,” Giddins said. “He said: ‘I just knew that my life would be more interesting as a black guy. If I’d chosen to live my life passing as white, I’d have never been able to sing with Duke Ellington.’ ”

Jeffries was born as Umberto Valentino in Detroit in 1913. He changed his name to Herbert Jeffrey, taking the name of his step-father, and then changed it to Jeffries after a typo on a record, the New York Times reported.

Married five times, Jeffries listed his race as Caucasian on marriage licenses. Along with his name and racial heritage, Jeffries’ age also is uncertain. It is widely accepted that he was born on Sept. 24, 1913. However, he sometimes told people he was born two years earlier, and a 1920 census document lists his birth year as 1914, The New York Times reported.

Jeffries is survived by his fifth wife, Savannah; three daughters; and two sons.

Friends and fan posted fond comments on Twitter.

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