Herb Jeffries, a jazz balladeer whose matinee-idol looks won him fame in the late 1930s as the “Bronze Buckaroo” – the first singing star of all-black cowboy movies for segregated audiences – died May 25 at a hospital in West Hills, Calif. He was widely believed to be 100, but for years he insisted he was much older.

The cause was stomach and heart ailments, said Raymond Strait, a friend of 70 years who had been working with Jeffries on his autobiography. Jeffries liked to exaggerate his age to shock listeners. “He wanted people to say, ‘Wow, he can still sing pretty good for 111,’ “ Strait said.

Jeffries had a seven-decade career on film, television, records and in nightclubs. His baritone voice – extraordinarily rich but delicate – was memorably captured on his greatest musical success, a 1941 hit recording of “Flamingo” with Duke Ellington’s big band.

With a towering physique and a square jaw, Jeffries was perfectly suited to capitalize on the singing-cowboy movie craze that Gene Autry and Roy Rogers popularized in the 1930s.

Black performers such as the rodeo star Bill Pickett had appeared in silent westerns, but the Stetson-sporting, six-gun-toting Jeffries inaugurated the concept of a black singer riding in the saddle as the hero.

Sometimes billed as Herbert Jeffrey, he starred in a cluster of low-budget “race” pictures in the late 1930s: “Harlem on the Prairie,” “Rhythm Rodeo,” “Two-Gun Man from Harlem,” “The Bronze Buckaroo” and “Harlem Rides the Range.”

His recurring character in several of the films was Bob Blake, a debonair man of the range with a passion for justice and song.

Jeffries learned to ride on his grandfather’s dairy farm in Port Huron, Mich. He said the idea for an all-black cowboy picture came to him while touring the South as a singer in the mid-1930s and visiting tin-roof movie theaters meant for black audiences.

Jeffries never knew his father. He was raised by his mother in a boardinghouse she ran and where many singers and actors stayed.