Jeffries died of heart failure in West Hills, Calif. on Sunday, according to the L.A. Times. His health had been declining for some time.
The multitalented Jeffries embraced his mixed heritage — he was of Irish, Ethiopian, Sicilian, French, Moorish and Italian descent — and appeared in his first film in 1937. The movie, “Harlem of the Prairie,” was targeted to black audiences, and jump-started the career for the blue-eyed actor.
In 1939, he appeared in “The Bronze Buckaroo,” cementing his reputation as the African American Gene Autry. He would become a go-to singing cowboy in Hollywood, the good guy riding in on a white horse named Stardust. Other credits during the period include Westerns “Harlem Rides the Range” (1939) and “Two-Gun Man From Harlem” (1939), where he sang “I’m a Happy Cowboy.”