Legendary cabaret singer Bobby Short, who played for more than three decades at New York's Café Carlyle, died of leukemia on March 21, 2005, at age 80.
A few years ago, Time Magazine wrote, "in an increasingly inelegant world, Bobby Short is the very symbol of elegance, style and an easier way of life. Not long ago, his appeal seemed largely confined to New York, but now just about everyone everywhere seems to be enchanted by Bobby."
According to Variety, "…he miraculously manages to maintain a convincing freshness in offering up a fast-paced, smartly rendered hour of standards that both engross and amuse. There's a good reason for Short's long run; he's a unique performer who's found the appropriate rarefied setting. Long may he continue to hold forth."
On a visit to the Café Carlyle several years ago, Stephen Holden of The New York Times once described Short as being "at the top of his form in his 23rd spring season at the elegant cabaret. 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 sadder songs convey a high-style joie de vivre."
Newsweek wrote, "Like the songs he sings and plays, Bobby Short is a collector's item. And the people who collected him are legion, from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Eugene McCarthy to Norman Mailer and Leontyne Price. He's an easily acquired taste -- like caviar and champagne."
Acclaim such as this made Short the nation's most celebrated cabaret performer. Born in Danville, Illinois, he taught himself to play and sing by ear. He began performing as a child, touring in vaudeville from the age of 12, when he was dubbed "the miniature king of swing." By 1954, Short began to record and had attracted a loyal following for interpretations of popular songs from the ‘20s and ‘30s at nightclubs in New York, Hollywood, Paris and London.
A major turning point in his career came in 1968, when he appeared in the first hugely successful Town Hall concerts with Skitch Henderson and the New York Pops, as well as symphony orchestras in San Francisco, Sacramento, Oakland, Denver, Seattle, Atlanta, Detroit, and Columbus, to name a few.
Short performed at the White House often during the Nixon, Carter, and Reagan administrations, and his frequent appearances on television and the stage afforded him a unique position in the world of show business.
Among the many honors awarded to him as a result of his dedication to and appreciation of the American Popular song was an honorary Doctor of Arts degree from Bloomfield College in New Jersey. His home state of Illinois honored him with an appointment as Laureate of the Lincoln Academy. On June 9, 1991, the 100th Anniversary of Cole Porter's birth, Short received from the Cole Porter Family their "You're the Top" award for his outstanding contribution to sustaining the Cole Porter legend.
In the spring of 1992, Short began his 25th year at New York's Café Carlyle, a record of sorts. That same year, he released Late Night at the Café Carlyle, his first recording on Telarc. He went on to release six albums with the label.
Though called a National Treasure and a living legend, Short described himself as a saloon pianist and singer. He was a Trustee at the Studio Museum of Harlem and a Board Member at the Third Street Music School Settlement House as well as the founder and President of the Duke Ellington Memorial Fund, whose sole purpose was to create a monument to the late composer at the northeast corner of Central Park in New York City.