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Obituary: Singing cowboy Herb Jeffries was proud of his Northern Ireland heritage

Herb Jeffries, the Bronze Buckaroo - the last of the singing cowboys - has died at 100, without ever tracing the Northern Ireland birthplace of his mother.

Herb was forced to cancel a visit to Ireland in 1939 because WW2 war clouds were looming. It meant that Herb's attempt to find the place where his mum was born was curtailed too.

Gene Autry, another cowboy idol, ended his tour here abruptly and returned home to America just before the UK declared war on Germany in 1939.

Mary Jeffries – Herb never knew his Ethiopian father – who died in 1934, is believed to have been born near Cogry in Co Antrim.

She emigrated to Detroit in her early teens and Herb was born there in 1914.

Jeffries was a fan of cowboy stars like Roy Rogers and Autry. Of mixed race he called himself the first black singing cowboy.

But when he took the lead in low-budget western Harlem on the Prairie in 1937, he used make-up to darken his skin tone.

Herb appeared in many westerns which he joked were C-Grade.

He was also a successful jazz singer and appeared with the legendary Duke Ellington's Orchestra.

Herb was spotted as a teenage talent by Louis Armstrong who got him work with bands in Chicago where he became aware of segregation and got the idea of becoming the Bronze Buckaroo. He was always proud of his mixed -race heritage and of his Irish connection.

"I recognise no race, no colour only American," he once said.

In 1992 the Buckaroo became a respected favourite all over again when several of his films were found in a cellar in Texas.

In '95 his album of cowboy songs The Bronze Buckaroo Rides Again was a hit.

He was married five times and is survived by the fifth, Savannah, and his five children.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph