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Deaths 2016

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Full list by date of death

Herb Jeffries


Born - 24 September 1911, Detroit, Michigan, USA
Died - 25 May 2014

Slim, moustachioed vocalist with the Duke Ellington Orchestra in the early 1940s who had already become known as Hollywood's first black singing cowboy, starring in low-budget oaters aimed at what was then termed the 'coloured audience'. The possessor of a silky-smooth baritone voice, Jeffries, born Umberto Ballentino, described himself of being of 'Sicilian, Irish and Ethiopian heritage'. A band singer from 1931, it was he himself who thought up the idea of black westerns, appearing as Herbert Jeffrey in Harlem on the Prairie (1937), Rhythm Rodeo (1938), Two-Gun Man from Harlem (1938), Harlem on the Range (1939) and The Bronze Buckaroo (1939), before resuming his singing career. His velvet tones were also heard in the shorts Cottontail (1941), Flamingo (1942, featuring his biggest hit), Varieties (1952) and Lionel Hampton and Herb Jeffries (1956). Other film credits include Disc Jockey (1951), Rhythm and Blues Revue (1955), Basin Street Revue (1956), the title role in Calypso Joe (1957) and, later on, Chrome and Hot Leather (1971) and Portrait of a Hitman (1979). Still active at 97, he appeared as himself in the 2008 documentary feature A Colored Life: The Herb Jeffries Story. He also directed the film Mundo depravados in 1967. Five times married, he died from heart failure at 102.