One of America's premier interpreters of the Great American Songbook, singer and pianist Bobby Short died in New York Monday, March 21 of leukemia. He was 80 years old. Short rose from being a humble "song and dance man" to become one of New York's most popular cabaret singers. He was a fixture at the city's famed Café Carlyle for more than three decades, and his many finely-crafted recordings were praised for their subtle touches of nuance and sophistication.
Bobby Short's devotion to the works of Rodgers and Hart, George Gershwin and Cole Porter made him a household name among followers of popular music. But it was his unwavering dedication to the Café Carlyle at Manhattan's Carlyle Hotel that forever sealed his legacy. Short arrived in New York in 1956, and dreamed of someday performing at the Café Carlyle. That dream came true when he was hired to work there for two weeks in 1968, an engagement that was extended for the next 36 years. Short described the Café Carlyle as a hidden treasure of American nightlife.
"The Café Carlyle is, today, singular in that it's a bastion for what used to be sophisticated New York nightlife," he said. "There's no other place like it in New York or in the country or in the world."
Bobby Short was born in Danville, Illinois. He taught himself to sing and play piano, and by age 12, was performing regularly in vaudeville. People called him "The Miniature King Of Swing," a title he took with him to the nightclubs and stages of Chicago, Los Angeles, Paris, London, and finally, New York. His discography includes the works of many of our finest composers, especially that of fellow-Midwesterner Cole Porter. In 1991, on the 100th anniversary of Porter's birth, the Cole Porter family presented Short their "You're The Top" award for his outstanding contribution to sustaining the Cole Porter legacy.
Among his many other accomplishments, Short often performed at the White House, with symphony orchestras, on television and in some of the world's most glamorous concert halls. Despite changing trends and tastes, Short remained loyal to his show business career.
"I've never really had a difficult time," he said. "I've had times when jobs were not quite as plentiful as they are today. I've had a pretty good run, I think. I haven't suffered a lot. I don't believe in starving artists or addicts."
Jazz vocalist, pianist and cabaret star Bobby Short died March 21 of leukemia at age 80 in New York City.