Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Bobby Short (September 15, 1924 – March 21, 2005) was an American cabaret singer known for his interpretation of songs by early 20th century composers such as Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Vernon Duke, and George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin. He also championed African-American composers of the same period such as Eubie Blake, James P. Johnson, Andy Razaf, Fats Waller, and Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, presenting their work not in a polemical way, but as simply the obvious equal of that of their paler contemporaries. His 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" or Gershwin and Duke's "I Can't Get Started with You." Short always said his favorite songwriters were Ellington, Arlen and Kern, and he was instumental in spearheading the construction of the Ellington Memorial in his beloved New York City.
He was born Robert Waltrip Short in Danville, Illinois, and began performing after leaving home at the age of eleven for Chicago, with his mother's permission. He started working in clubs in the 1940s, and in 1968 settled at the Cafe Carlyle in New York City, where he became an institution. There an alchemy of traits -- his seemingly-effortless elegance; his vocal phrasing (perfected, as was that of Frank Sinatra's, at the feet of Miss Mabel Mercer (with perhaps also some help from Ethel Waters); his genius for presenting unknown songs worth knowing while keeping well-known songs fresh; his rollicking stride piano style subtly informed by his side playing of the classical composers; his infectious good cheer; his resolute, self-disciplined professionalism; and most of all, his joy, his ever-abounding joy in the great American song -- made him an unimitatable, seductive, sensational, marvelous, simply marvelous, great American treasure.
- 1986: Short appears in the Woody Allen film Hannah and Her Sisters.
- 2000: The Library of Congress designates Short a Living Legend, a recognition established as part of its bicentennial celebration.
- 2004: Short announces he will end his regular appearances at the Cafe Carlyle by the end of the year, in favor of touring, traveling, and spending time with friends.
- 2005: Short dies of leukemia at New York Presbyterian Hospital on March 21, 2005.
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