Herb Jeffries (September 24, 1913 – May 25, 2014) was an American actor of film and television and popular music and jazz singer-songwriter, known of his baritone voice, he was of African descent and was Hollywood's first singing black cowboy
Jeffries was born Umberto Alexander Valentino in Detroit to a white Irish mother who ran a rooming house. His father, whom he never knew, was of mixed Sicilian, French, Italian and Moorish roots. He also claimed that his paternal great-grandmother was an Ethiopian with the surname of Carey.
Firm evidence of Jeffries’s race and age is hard to come by, but census documents from 1920 described him as mulattoand listed his father as a black man named Howard Jeffrey. Jeffries himself, late in life, said that Howard Jeffrey was his stepfather. He said his biological father was Domenico Balentino, a Sicilian who died in World War I.
Jeffries once described himself in an interview as "three-eighths Negro", claiming pride in an African-American heritage during a period when many light-skinned black performers were attempting "to pass" as all-white in an effort to broaden their commercial appeal. In marked contrast, Jeffries used make-up to darken his skin in order to pursue a career in jazz and to be seen as employable by the leading all-black musical ensembles of the day.
Much later in his career, Jeffries identified as white for economic or highly personal reasons. Jet reported that Jeffries identified as White and stated his "real" name as "Herbert Jeffrey Ball" on an application in order to marry Tempest Storm in 1959. Jeffries told the reporter for Jet:
Have you ever heard of Herb Jeffries? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!
Originally posted 1/25/16