Herb Jeffries

Herb Jeffries
Los Angeles Times

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Herb Jeffries
Music: South side of the 6600 block of Hollywood Boulevard
Actor | Jazz Musician | Singer
Born Umberto Balentino on Sept. 24, 1913 in Detroit, Mich.
Died May 25, 2014 of heart failure in West Hills, CA

Herb Jeffries, a actor-singer, was stuck with dual images. One was a sophisticated chap who wears a tuxedo and sings in front of jazz bands. The other sported boots and a cowboy hat and sang western songs from atop a horse.

Jeffries' legendary career began in Detroit, where he sang with the bands of Erskine Tate and Earl "Fatha" Hines before he was 20. In 1934, Jeffries left Hines' group to pursue an entirely different career, that of movie cowboy.

He starred in a number of films from 1935 to 1939, including "Harlem on the Prairie," "Two Gun Man From Harlem" and "The Bronze Buckaroo." They were among the first to feature a black hero.

His career took another turn when he walked into Detroit's Graystone Ballroom one night wearing his cowboy outfit. Duke Ellington was on the bandstand, recognized the film star in the crowd and called him up to sing. Afterward, Ellington met him at the bar and asked him to join the band. Jeffries spent 1940 to 1942 with Ellington, singing, most notably, "Flamingo," a 78-rpm hit for Victor Records.

Jeffries died May 25, 2014, of heart failure at West Hills Hospital and Medical Center in West Hills, Calif. He was 100.

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