Born Robert Waltrip Short in Sept. 1924, the quintessential cabaret singer who exuded class and sophistication, became a fixture at the Cafe Carlyle, where he played for more than 35 years. He was so closely associated with the posh Carlyle and a certain Manhattan aesthetic, that another New York icon, Woody Allen, featured him performing in his film "Hannah and Her Sisters."
For many years, he headed a small, but expressive combo at the Carlyle, only graduating to a miniature version of a big band in recent years. Gleaming with vim and vitality, with black eyebrows bobbing high above his eyes, he would greet his well-tailored audiences with husky-voiced exclamations such as "You all look absolutely wonderful tonight, and we're just crazy about you!" The almost storybook elegance of his everyday existence extended to a wardrobe apparently composed of only tuxedos and white v-neck sweaters, as well as a second residence in France.
Best known for his interpretations of the works of Cole Porter and Noël Coward, three-time Grammy nominee Short began his career at age nine, performing in saloons in Illinois to help his family during the Great Depression.
By the time he was 11, Short was nicknamed the "Miniature King of Swing," and soon after, he began playing New York City nightclubs as well as the famed Apollo Theatre. A regular gig at Los Angeles' the Cafe Gala followed as well as performances in London and Paris.
Short later released an album for Atlantic Records, and a 1968 concert at Town Hall with Mabel Mercer led to his decades-long run at the Cafe Carlyle. There, his many fans included Norman Mailer, Barbara Walters and the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. On Broadway Short was seen in the original Sidney S. Kingsley drama Night Life in 1962, and his television work included guest appearances on "The Love Boat," "In the Heat of the Night," "Central Park West," "Frasier," "7th Heaven" and the 1979 miniseries "Roots: The Next Generation." His film work included "Call Me Mister," "A Night on the Town," "Blue Ice" and "Man of the Century." Mr. Short was also a regular fixture at the White House, performing for Presidents Nixon, Carter, Reagan and Clinton.
Short spent his working life devoted to the interpretation of the Great American Songbook. His numerous recordings include "Jump for Joy," "Piano," "Bobby Short Loves Cole Porter," "Guess Who's in Town," "The Mad Twenties," "My Personal Property," "Speaking of Love," "Sing Me a Swing Song," "You're the Top: Love Songs of Cole Porter," "How's Your Romance?," "Songs of New York Live at the Cafe Carlyle," "Live at the Cafe Carlyle," "The Mad Twenties," "Bobby Short Celebrates Rodgers & Hart," "Nobody Else But Me," "Swing That Music," "Late Night at the Cafe Carlyle," "Bobby Short Is K-RA-ZY for Gershwin," "Bobby, Noel & Cole," "Moments Like This," "Mabel Mercer & Bobby Short at Town Hall," "Mercer & Short: Second Town Hall Concert," "Bobby Short on the East Side" and "Songs By Bobby Short."
About his song choices, Short once told The New York Times, "I go back to what I heard Marian Anderson say once: 'First a song has to be beautiful.' However, 'beautiful' covers a wide range of things. I have to admire a song's structure and what it's about. But I also have to determine how I can transfer my affection for a song to an audience; I have to decide whether I can put it across."
New York Times music critic Stephen Holden recently had this to say about the pianist-singer: "Mr. Short's many strengths include an impeccable taste in songs and a special eye for obscure Cole Porter gems. His enunciation is crystal clear and his singular keyboard style infuses traditional society piano with the rollicking animation of Harlem vaudeville. Everything he does communicates, and even the sadder songs convey a high-style joie de vivre."
Like many a quintessential New York sophisticate, Mr. Short was born in the Midwest, in Danville, Illinois, where his family had moved from Kentucky. He was ninth of ten children. His family was poor, but encouraged his musicality. He taught himself to play and sing by ear and participated in musical school clubs, and as a teenager, performed in the upscale saloon of Danville's Wolford Hotel. In 1997, he established the Bobby Short Scholarship through an endowment to the Danville Area Community College Foundation. The scholarship is awarded annually to a liberal arts student at DACC who graduated from Garfield.
Mr. Short's autobiographies include "Black and White Baby" and "Bobby Short: The Life and Times of a Saloon Singer."