Bobby Short

Cabaret singer with a love of Cole Porter

Bobby Short was one of New York's greatest cabaret singers; his piano-playing and singing were as immaculate as his appearance. He excelled in the intimate Café Carlyle and he loved the great songs of the 1930s and 1940s. Cole Porter's family gave him a special award on the centenary of Porter's birth in 1991 for maintaining his legacy.

Robert Waltrip Short, pianist and singer: born Danville, Illinois 15 September 1924; (one adopted son); died New York 21 March 2005.

Bobby Short was one of New York's greatest cabaret singers; his piano-playing and singing were as immaculate as his appearance. He excelled in the intimate Café Carlyle and he loved the great songs of the 1930s and 1940s. Cole Porter's family gave him a special award on the centenary of Porter's birth in 1991 for maintaining his legacy.

Robert Waltrip Short was born into a poor black family in Danville, Illinois in 1924. He was ninth of 10 children and he taught himself to play the piano by copying the songs he heard on the radio. By the age of nine, he was performing in clubs around Danville and was even performing Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady". His mother took him to Chicago and he became known as the "Miniature King of Swing". He played on stage with Louis Armstrong and worked at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. Because he wore white tie and tails, he acquired a second sobriquet, the "Black and White Baby", which became the title of his childhood memoir in 1971.

Completing his schooling, he played in clubs in Danville and then in 1948 he moved to Los Angeles for a residency. He appeared in London and Paris and then signed with Atlantic Records in New York, making the albums Songs by Bobby Short (1955) and Speaking of Love (1956). He said that his criterion for selecting material was that "first a song has to be beautiful." His clear enunciation brought out the best in the lyrics and he would add some Harlem vaudeville licks to his sophisticated playing.

In 1968 he performed in concert with the highly respected singer Mabel Mercer in Manhattan's Town Hall, which led to two popular albums, Mabel Mercer and Bobby Short at Town Hall (1968) and Mercer and Short: Second Town Hall Concert (1969). His other albums include Bobby Short Loves Cole Porter (1971), Bobby Short Celebrates Rodgers and Hart (1975), K-R-A-Z-Y For Gershwin (1990), How's Your Romance? (1997) and You're the Top: love songs of Cole Porter (1999).

Also in 1968 Short signed a deal with Café Carlyle, working in their lounge six nights a week for eight months a year. He played for four Presidents at the White House and he worked with several symphony orchestras including the Boston Pops. He was nominated for a Grammy for Late Night at the Café Carlyle (1993). He was awarded an arts degrees and he set up a fellowship in his home town.

Woody Allen loved his work, featuring him in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) and using his version of Cole Porter's "I Happen To Like New York" on the credits of Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993). Short appeared in the films Splash with Tom Hanks (1984), Blue Ice with Michael Caine (1992) and For Love or Money with Michael J. Fox (1993). In 2000 the Library of Congress designated Short a Living Legend as part of its bicentennial celebration.

Short left the Café Carlyle in 2004 with the intention of touring. He joked, "One day I might learn to read music properly, but Erroll Garner once told me, 'Man, who's gonna pay to hear you read?' "

Spencer Leigh



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