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Cabaret Singer Short Dies

Cabaret singer Bobby Short died yesterday at age 80 in New York’s Presbyterian Hospital of leukemia. Short’s career lasted over 70 years, the last 37 of which he spent at New York’s Carlyle Hotel.

Short was known for his devotion to the “great American songbook,” singing songs by Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, the Gershwins, Harold Arlen and others. His fans not only included hotel patrons and local New Yorkers, but also Norman Mailer, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Barbara Walters. Short also played the White House for presidents Nixon, Carter, Reagan and Clinton.

He was nominated for two Grammys in his career: in 2000 for You’re the Top: Love Songs of Cole Porter and in 1993 for Late Night at the Café Carlyle.

Short began playing the Café Carlyle in 1968, in the midst of the Vietnam War and later appeared in the movies Hannah and Her Sisters and Splash. After he began suffering from vocal problems in 1970, Short began working on his autobiography Black and White Baby and updated his memoirs in 1995 with Bobby Short: The Life and Times of a Saloon Singer.

“My audience,” he once said, “expects a certain amount of sophistication when they are coming to hear me.”

Robert Waltrip Short was born Sept. 15, 1924 in Danville, Ill. to a musical family as the ninth of 10 children. By the time he was four, he was playing piano and recreating songs he heard on the radio. By age nine, he was already performing at saloons around his hometown to make extra money during the Depression and within two years, Short was playing Chicago under his nickname, the “Miniature King of Swing.”

Short played St. Louis, Milwaukee and Kansas City – the vaudeville circuit – and on one date, played alongside Louis Armstrong. By age 12, he was headlining Manhattan nightclubs and regular engagements at the Apollo Theater.

He eventually moved back to his hometown and high school, afraid of missing out on his youth. But four years later, the he was back performing and by 1948, he had a regular gig at Los Angeles’ Café Gala. After three years there, he left for London and Paris, his success there leading to an album on Atlantic.

While his audience began to shrink during the 60s, due to the Beatles and the British Invasion, he regained his popularity with a 1968 concert featuring singer Mabel Mercer; that same year he signed a deal with the Café Carlyle.

“The Carlyle is deeply saddened by the passing of Bobby Short. With his quintessential style and sophistication, Bobby Short captured the hearts of us all over the past 35 years at the Café Carlyle. He is an American treasure who will be greatly missed,” Managing Director of the Carlyle James McBride said.

“I’ve survived in the city of New York, not an easy thing to achieve,” Short once told the AP. “Most of the dreams I’ve had for myself have come true. I wanted to come to New York and become successful and work in a smart room and make recordings. I guess I wanted to be famous in a kind of way. I wanted to have money.”

The never-married Short is survived by his son Ronald Bell and brother Reginald Short, both of California.

Originally Published