Bobby Short

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Bobby Short
Short in 2000
Short in 2000
Background information
Birth nameRobert Waltrip Short
Born(1924-09-15)September 15, 1924
Danville, Illinois, U.S.
DiedMarch 21, 2005(2005-03-21) (aged 80)
New York City, U.S.
GenresSwing, traditional pop, vocal jazz
Occupation(s)Vocalist, pianist
LabelsAtlantic Records

Robert Waltrip Short (September 15, 1924 – March 21, 2005)[1] was an American cabaret singer and pianist, who interpreted songs by popular composers from the first half of the 20th century such as Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Richard A. Whiting, Vernon Duke, Noël Coward and George and Ira Gershwin.

Short also championed African-American composers of the same period such as Eubie Blake, James P. Johnson, Andy Razaf, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, presenting their work not in a polemical way, but as simply the obvious equal of that of their white contemporaries.

Short's dedication to his great love – what he called the "Great American Song" – left him equally adept at performing the witty lyrics of Bessie Smith's "Gimme a Pigfoot (And a Bottle of Beer)" or Gershwin and Duke's "I Can't Get Started". Short stated his favorite songwriters were Ellington, Arlen and Kern, and he was instrumental in spearheading the construction of the Ellington Memorial in New York City. He was a friend of Tom Jobim and was present during the composer's final days in New York City.

Early life[edit]

Short was born in Danville, Illinois, where two of his school classmates were Dick Van Dyke and Donald O'Connor.[2][better source needed] He began performing piano in dance halls and saloons, and as a busker, after leaving home at age 11 for Chicago with his mother's permission.


Short began his adult musical career in clubs in the 1940s. In 1968 he was offered a two-week stint at the Café Carlyle in New York City, to fill in for George Feyer. Short (accompanied by Beverly Peer on bass and Dick Sheridan on drums) became an institution at the Carlyle, as Feyer had been before him, and remained there as a featured performer for more than 35 years. He often performed impromptu all-night sets at his various favorite cafes and restaurants. He was a regular patron at Ted Hook's Backstage, at Eighth Avenue and 45th Street.

In 1971 Short published Black and White Baby, a brilliant description of his childhood upbringing in the dance halls and saloons of Chicago and New York, and his family's fight for survival after the death of his father. He followed with Bobby Short: The Life and Times of a Saloon Singer in 1995, chronicling his career into the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

Short continued his career in the 1970s and 1980s singing for films and television. In 1972, he performed the theme song to James Ivory's film Savages. In 1976, Short sang and appeared in a commercial for Revlon's perfume "Charlie". In 1979 he performed a 25-song set that was released on DVD in 2004 as Bobby Short at the Cafe Carlyle. In 1981, he made a cameo appearance on The Love Boat in a two-part episode. In 1985, he sang part of the opening theme for the NBC television show Misfits of Science. Short continued working in films when, in 1986, he appeared in the Woody Allen film Hannah and Her Sisters. Allen used Short's recording of "I Happen to Like New York" for the opening title of Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993).

In 1991, Short made a guest appearance as blues musician Ches Collins on the TV series In the Heat of the Night in the episode "Sweet, Sweet Blues". He also performed the episode's theme song. He reprised the role in the 1994 episode "Ches and the Grand Lady". In 1993, he made an appearance in the Michael J. Fox comedy film For Love or Money, performing Marc Shaiman's song "In Your Eyes". Short's final film role was in Man of the Century (1999).

Later years[edit]

In 2000, the Library of Congress designated Short a Living Legend, a recognition established as part of its bicentennial celebration. The next year, his voice was featured in the 200th episode of the sitcom Frasier. In 2004, Short announced plans to end his regular appearances at the Café Carlyle by the end of the year. He continued to tour and travel until the end of his life.


Bobby Short was inducted as a Laureate of The Lincoln Academy of Illinois and in 1983 was awarded the Order of Lincoln by the governor of Illinois (the state's highest honor) in the area of performing arts.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Short adopted Ronald Bell, of San Francisco, who was the son of Short's older brother William.[1]

Although Short never publicly declared that he was gay, it was well known among his friends, fellow musicians, and some of his fans. When asked by a friend why he hadn't taken part in any of the gay pride marches of the 1970s and 1980s, Short's response was, "I have a living to make! I can't afford to march in the Gay Pride Parade."[4]


On March 21, 2005, Short died of leukemia at New York Presbyterian Hospital.[1] He is buried in Atherton Cemetery in Danville, Illinois, the city of his birth.


  • Songs by Bobby Short (1955, Atlantic)
  • Bobby Short (1956, Atlantic)
  • Speaking of Love (1957, Atlantic)
  • Sing Me A Swing Song (1958, Atlantic)
  • The Mad Twenties (1959, Atlantic)
  • Bobby Short on the East Side (1960, Atlantic)
  • My Personal Property (1963, Atlantic)
  • Jump for Joy (1969, Atlantic)
  • Nobody Else But Me (1971, Atlantic)
  • Bobby Loves Cole Porter (1971, Atlantic)
  • Bobby Short is Mad About Noël Coward (1972, Atlantic)
  • Bobby Short is K-RA-ZY for Gershwin (1973, Atlantic)
  • Live at the Cafe Carlyle (1974, Atlantic)
  • Bobby Short Celebrates Rodgers & Hart (1975, Atlantic)
  • Personal (1977, Atlantic)
  • Moments Like This (1982, Elektra/Asylum)
  • Guess Who's in Town: Bobby Short Performs the Songs of Andy Razaf (1987, Atlantic)
  • Late Night at the Cafe Carlyle (1992, Telarc)
  • Swing That Music (1993, Telarc)
  • Songs of New York (Live) (1995, Telarc)
  • Celebrating 30 Years of the Cafe Carlyle (1998, Telarc)
  • You're the Top: The Love Songs of Cole Porter (1999, Telarc)
  • Piano (2001, Surroundedby Entertainment)[5]

As guest vocalist[edit]

With Benny Carter




  1. ^ a b c Nemy, Enid (March 21, 2005). "Bobby Short, Icon of Manhattan Song and Style, Dies at 80". The New York Times. New York City.
  2. ^ "Boby Short". NME. Archived from the original on October 12, 2010. Retrieved September 26, 2010.
  3. ^ "Laureates by Year - The Lincoln Academy of Illinois". The Lincoln Academy of Illinois. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  4. ^ Adams, Michael Henry (July 7, 2009). "Queers in the Mirror: A Brief History of Old-Fashioned Gay Marriage in New York, Part II". Huffington Post. Retrieved January 11, 2015.
  5. ^ Bobby Short discography at

External links[edit]