Feb 12, 2010

Herb Jeffries in The Bronze Buckaroo (1939)

African American singer and actor Herb Jeffries came to Hollywood in the thirties, determined to make it to the big screen. He connected with a producer, and essentially made his own job as a singing cowboy in the Gene Autry vein. Tall, elegant Jeffries looked a lot more like a sophisticated nightclub singer than a rough-and-ready cowboy, but for a few years, he was a hit with African American audiences, who admired him in movies such as Harlem Rides the Range (1939) and Harlem on the Prairie (1937).

The Bronze Buckaroo (1939) is one of the most readily available of these flicks today, and really, once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen the lot. A handsome leading man, a few good songs, and a slightly amusing running gag about a talking mule are about all the movie has going for it, but at a one hour running time, that’s plenty.
Even Jeffries admitted that they got the story for this and his other cowboy pictures “from white movies and just changed names." The formula was in place, he just put his own twist on it. If you’ve got any tolerance for western programmers, or curiosity about the race movies of the day, you’ll be able to look past the mostly wooden acting and recycled plotline.

These westerns led to more work in race movies for Jeffries. In the forties, he would return to singing, making an enormously successful recording of The Flamingo with Duke Ellington. For a time, he also owned a Hollywood nightclub named, appropriately enough, The Black Flamingo. Jeffries has stayed active as a speaker and singer up to recent years. He’s still alive today at 96!

There are some great pics and posters of Jeffries on this site.

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