Biography Of A Legend

The Bronze Buckaroo (1938)

Herbert Jeffrey

aka as

Herb Jeffries

Entertainer - Movie Star - Songwriter

Herb Jeffries is no ordinary man.  Lean and not so mean, he wore two guns, wore a white Stetson hat and rode a white horse named "Stardusk."  Sounds like a cowboy hero doesn't it?  Well, he was and he's black!  "I never saw him in the movies", you say?  "I never saw him doing personal appearances", you say?  "He doesn't do concerts", you say?  You're probably right - you probably never have.  To see him in a movie, you have to dig deep into the low cost section of a big video store or find a store that provides black entertainment. To hear him - you've got to be into the big time Jazz era.  Listen to Blanche Calloway, Earl "Fatha" Hines, Tommy Dorsey or Duke Ellington you may hear his rich baritone voice. Herb was born in Detroit.  As a teenager he started singing with local groups and later sang with and then some of the best bands around.  While traveling around the South, he noticed that there were thousand of little tin-roofed movie theaters all playing white cowboy pictures.  In the 1930's, the color of a person's skin dictated your choice of where to live, where to eat or even where to go to see a movie.   "Why can't we make "black cowboy" pictures", he wondered.  "Why don't black children have a black cowboy hero?" In Los Angeles in the 30's, on tour, Herb started looking for backing to make the cowboy movies that he envisioned.  He found a producer, Jed Buell, and a distributer who would take all the movies they could make.  But who would star?  Herb was too light-skinned to be taken for a black man.  They feared that audiences would not accept him.  But fate wasn't ready to pass him by; a black person who could ride a horse, sing and act couldn't be found.  Herb was the man who would star. But leave it to Hollywood; they darkened his skin and covered his wavy hair with a big hat. And star he did.  The first picture was "Harlem On The Prairie," followed by "The Bronze Buckaroo," "Harlem Rides The Range," and "Two Gun Man From Harlem."  Herb played singing cowboy Bob Blake and following the successful formula of Gene Autry, had a sidekick named "Dusty" and a cast of familiar faces, i.e., Spencer Williams Jr, who would later become Andy of Amos and Andy, and Montan Moreland,  who would later be a co-star in Charlie Chan movies.  If you watch some of these films, you'll see other familiar faces.  His movies were not the first black movies. There were many geared to segregated audiences, but until the 1960's Herb Jeffrey was the only African-American to receive top-billing in a string of western movies and with a few notable exceptions made more western features than any other African-American in the industry, even today.  He helped lay the groundwork for starring black actors. Herb is in his 80's and still performs as a singer and writes music.  The Autry Western Heritage Museum has a display honoring him along with our other movie cowboy heroes.  He occasionally performs in the San Fernando Valley. He has an album on CD, Herb Jeffrey " The Bronze Buckaroo Rides Again." He is quoted as saying, "I belong to the human race.  We all do. I'm a chameleon, I can do anything I want."  I can add a little more, "A good entertainer, a man with a vision with the fortitude to make it a reality, an inspiration to all children, of any color, and a man who we all can look up to." ------------------------------------------------------------------------