Bobby Short, Cabaret singer and pianist, Died at 80


Robert Waltrip “Bobby” Short died on March 21, 2005 at the age of 80 of leukemia at New York Presbyterian Hospital, he was an American cabaret singer and pianist.

Born in Danville, Illinois on September 15, 1924, where one of his school classmates was Dick Van Dyke.

He began performing as a busker after leaving home at the age of eleven for Chicago, with his mother’s permission. Short began his 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 over 35 years.

Short often performed impromptu all-night sets at his various favorite cafes and restaurants.

He was a regular patron at Ted Hook’s Backstage, located at Eighth Avenue and Forty-Fifth Street.

He 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 social status sometimes overshadowed his significance as a jazz pianist, singer and scholar. He dedicated himself to spreading an awareness of the African-American contribution to New York’s musical theater.

In his pantheon of great American songwriters, Cole Porter stood side by side with Duke Ellington, Eubie Blake, Fats Waller, and Waller’s sometime lyricist Andy Razaf, who wrote the words for “Guess Who’s in Town?,” Mr. Short’s unofficial musical greeting.

He was an accomplished, aggressive stride pianist who in his later years at the Cafe Carlyle expanded his musical forces to lead a swing band.

A typical performance blended uptown and downtown styles in a heady mix. In the first, he described his life as one of 10 children in a family of modest means in the Depression.

He began performing as a child in Danville, Ill., and recalled that by the time he was 9, he was playing the piano in a roadhouse as well as living in the traditional world of family, church and school.

A good deal of attention was given to music, he often said when he reminisced. There was a piano in almost every classroom and a teacher who could play it.

He was drilled in sight reading and theory but basically taught himself to play and sing.