(Advertising herald courtesy of Les Adams)
(Photo by Roger Karnbad, courtesy of Ancel Cook)
Above is a February 6, 1999 photo of singin' cowboys Eddie Dean and Herb Jeffries at a fund raiser at the Iverson Movie Ranch to raise money for Dean's star in Palm Springs. Dean passed away about a month later.
(Courtesy of Larry Blanks)
Above are Larry Blanks and Herb Jeffries at the 2003 Pre- Gold Boot awards party.
"The Bronze Buckaroo"
Real name variations:
Umberto Alejandro Ballentino
1911? - 2014
Born in Detroit in 1911 or 1913 or 1914, Herb Jeffries is a great singer ... and his rich baritone enhanced the legendary Duke Ellington Orchestra beginning around 1940. Prior to his connection with Ellington, Jeffries sang with the Earl 'Fatha' Hines.
In between all of this - and most often billed as Herbert Jeffrey - he strapped on a brace of six-guns and rode the Hollywood range in a quartet of B westerns in the late 1930s.
In westerns (and other films), it was common to typecast performers based on their race, ethnicity, etc. That was a time of Hollywood stereotypes, and black performers were generally given minor roles as a servant, porter, cook, et al. While I'm no expert on the subject, there was a market for films featuring black performers and there were many black only theaters.
Herb Jeffries' first oater was HARLEM ON THE PRAIRIE (1937), and the producer was none other than Jed Buell. Handling the directing chores was prolific Sam Newfield. Buell's career began with the Mack Sennett studio and later, he produced many of the Fred Scott singin' westerns which were released by Spectrum. And in 1938, Buell created a film that remains unique in Hollywood history - the movie was THE TERROR OF TINY TOWN which featured an all midget cast playing cowboys and cowgirls.
Over the course of the next year or two, Jeffries did three more sagebrush yarns, TWO GUN MAN FROM HARLEM (1938), THE BRONZE BUCKAROO (1939), and HARLEM RIDES THE RANGE (1939). Buell was not involved in these productions -- Richard C. Kahn had assumed those duties. The films were distributed by Al Sack via his Texas-based Sack Amusement Enterprises.
Cast members in the Jeffries films included Mantan Moreland, best remembered for his role as chauffeur 'Birmingham Brown' in the Charlie Chan series. Spencer Williams worked in front and behind the camera - Williams was 'Andy Brown' in the AMOS & ANDY TVer of the early 1950s.
Hans Wollstein provided info on the vocal groups that appeared in the films. In HARLEM RIDES THE RANGE, there are two: The Four Tones (Lucius Brooks, Rudolph Hunter, Leon Buck and Ira Hardin) and The Four Blackbirds (James Davis, Edward Brandon, Reg Anderson and Jack Williams). The Four Tones also appeared in HARLEM ON THE PRAIRIE, THE BRONZE BUCKAROO, and TWO-GUN MAN FROM HARLEM.
Another film or two were in the planning stages, but were never made. Any chances to continue the series ended when Jeffries signed on as the lead vocalist with the Ellington band, circa 1939 or '40. He served in World War II and, after the war, lived for a dozen years in France.
Jeffries was a recipient of a Golden Boot award in 1996.
The first and only black hero/lead in the old B westerns deserves a page on the Old Corral.
Jeffries passed away from heart failure on Sunday, May 25, 2014 West Hills Hospital and Medical Center, West Hills, California. The Los Times Newspaper website has an obituary on Herb: http://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-me-herb-jeffries-20140526-story.html
Above left is a screen capture of Jeffries from the public domain HARLEM RIDES THE RANGE (1939). On the right is the Sack Amusement Enterprises logo.
(Courtesy of Les Adams) | |(Courtesy of Les Adams)
The above are advertising heralds, which were flyers handed out to promote films. Note that Jeffries name is spelled as "Herbert Jeffrey". His horse is listed as 'Stardust' in the herald above right. But in the herald at the top of this webpage, the steed is listed as 'Stardusk'. Stardusk (with a K) is the correct name. Note "The Bronze Buckaroo" on the left herald, while the right one has "The Happy Cowboy".
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above is the Sack Amusement Enterprises contact information on the top of a broadside/herald that was available. Notice that Jeffries is billed as "Herbert Jeffries, Sensational Singing Cowboy".
Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) has information on Herb Jeffries (Herbert Jeffrey): http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0420370/
Official Herb Jeffries website: http://www.herbjeffries.com/
Donna L. Halper at the Journalism Department, Emerson College, Boston, Massachusetts authored an article on Herb Jeffries: http://www.classicimages.com/people/article_32260f27-7f80-596e-b618-19540a410fff.html
You may want to visit the Golden Boot award webpage on the Old Corral. Herb Jeffries received a Golden Boot at the 1996 awards ceremony.
Jeffries was inducted into the Western Music Association Hall of Fame in 1997: http://www.westernmusic.org/herb-jeffries
In 2004, Jeffries was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: http://www.nationalcowboymuseum.org/info/awards-hof/Western-Performers.aspx
The Santa Clarita Valley History in Pictures website has a 2001 photo of Jeffries being inducted into the Newhall, California Walk of Western Stars: http://www.scvhistory.com/scvhistory/lw2102b.htm
There's a variety of Herb Jeffries videos on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=%22herb+jeffries%22
as well as several of his westerns:
TWO GUN MAN FROM HARLEM (1937): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_WZnDU5gWug
THE BRONZE BUCKAROO (1939): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwO2nlXlvp4
HARLEM RIDES THE RANGE (1939) : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lQFxvcr31Y
If you're interested in cowboy tunes, check out the Herb Jeffries' CD The Bronze Buckaroo (Rides Again) ... this link will take you to the amazon.com website: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000002MRV/sr=1-1/ref=sc_m_1/104-5942311-4083151
The Handbook of Texas Online is a project of the Texas State Historical Association and their website has an article on screen writer/director/actor Spencer Williams: http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fwiah
Jerry Schneider's Movie Making Locations webguide has info on the N. B. Murray Dude Ranch near Victorville, California, which was used for the Jeffries westerns: http://www.movielocationsplus.com/MURRAY.HTM