Herb Jeffries is Still Singing Good (And That Ain't Bad)

Bruce Frasier
People/Entertainment Editor

Desert Sun Online September 28th, 1999

Herb Jeffriesí 88th birthday celebration Friday at the Rock Garden Cafe in Palm Springs was like a hundred-year storm -- a once-in-a-century event.

But, like other hundred-year storms Iíve survived, there was another one two days later.

Jeffriesí party was unusual partly because of his remarkable condition. He doesnít look a day over 60 and a fan said heís singing better than he did 50 years ago, when he was 38.

The fact that he just married a woman less than half his age, the attractive, Internet-savvy Savannah doesnít diminish my respect for him, either.

"I donít have any reference to (age)," Jeffries said. "Weíre subliminally brainwashed with that word Ďold.í Itís a good commercial word for people who want to make money with it. I donít believe in it."

Jeffriesí voice ran from soulful to trumpet-like on numbers such as "I Got It Bad (and That Ainít Good)," which he did in Duke Ellingtonís "Jump for Joy" in 1941, "Olí Man River" and "What Kind of Fool Am I." He turned "Satin Doll" into a toe-tapper and "Honeysuckle Rose" into a sexy come-on.

But, with all of the talent at this party staged by Irwin Rubinsky, Jeffries was more of an emcee than a solo performer. Marilyn King of the King Sisters stepped up for a soulful duet of "Summertime" and "Ainít Necessarily So," and the operatic Daun DeVore later joined him for a different interpretation of "Summertime." Ric Marlow, a former Jimmy Dorsey vocalist, gave a rare rendering of his hit, "A Taste of Honey," the 1962 Grammy winner for Best Instrumental. Ted Grouya, a year older than Jeffries, accompanied him on the theme he wrote for Jeffries in 1941, "Flamingo."

Jeffries isnít slowing down. He just launched his Flaming O record label with an Ellington tribute he says is the first album of his own that he likes, titled "The Duke and I." Heís also letting actor LeVar Burton direct a movie on his life. If it includes everything -- such as being the first black cowboy star, being Ellingtonís most famous vocalist and refusing to pass for white even when it would have meant better treatment -- itís going to be a long and fascinating film.

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