In honor of TCM and their “Summer Under the Stars” series, we launch our companion series, Summer Madness. The series will spotlight the achievements and films of one Black actor, daily throughout the month of August.
Herb Jeffries (born Umberto Alexander Valentino; September 24, 1913 – May 25, 2014) was an actor of film and television and popular music and jazz singer-songwriter, known for his baritone voice, he was of African descent and was Hollywood’s first singing black cowboy
He starred in several low-budget “race” Western feature films aimed at black audiences, Harlem on the Prairie (1937), Two-Gun Man from Harlem (1938), Rhythm Rodeo (1938), The Bronze Buckaroo (1939) and Harlem Rides the Range (1939). He also acted in several other films and television shows. During his acting career, he was usually billed as Herbert Jeffrey (sometimes Herbert Jeffries, Sensational Singing Cowboy or simply Herbert Jeffries).
Jeffries went on to star in another three musical westerns over the next two years. Jeffries starred as a singing cowboy, in several all-black Western films, in which he sang his own western compositions. In those films, Jeffries starred as cowboy Bob Blake, sang and performed his own stunts. Bob Blake was the good guy, with a thin mustache, who wore a white Stetson and rode a white horse named Stardust.
Jeffries went on to make other films, starring in the title film role of Calypso Joe co-starring Angie Dickinson in Calypso Joe (1957). In 1968, Jeffries appeared in the long-running western TV series The Virginian playing a gunslinger who intimidated the town. In the 1970s, he appeared in episodes of I Dream of Jeannie and Hawaii Five-0. He later directed and produced Mundo depravados, a cult film starring his wife, Tempest Storm.
Today Jeffries is respected and remembered as a pioneer who broke down rusted-shut racial doors in Hollywood and ultimately displayed a positive image as a black actor on celluloid.
He died of heart failure at West Hills Hospital and Medical Center on May 25, 2014, at the age of 100. #SummerMadness #Jeffries