Robert Waltrip "Bobby" Short (September 15, 1924 – March 21, 2005) was an American cabaret singer and pianist, best known for his interpretations of songs by popular composers of the first half of the 20th century such as Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Vernon Duke, Noel Coward and George and Ira Gershwin.
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 instrumental in spearheading the construction of the Ellington Memorial in his beloved New York City.
Bobby Short was one of New York's greatest cabaret singers; his piano-playing and singing were as immaculate as his appearance. He excelled in the intimate Café Carlyle and he loved the great songs of the 1930s and 1940s. Cole Porter's family gave him a special award on the centenary of Porter's birth in 1991 for maintaining his legacy.
Robert Waltrip Short was born into a poor black family in Danville, Illinois in 1924. He was ninth of 10 children and he taught himself to play the piano by copying the songs he heard on the radio. By the age of nine, he was performing in clubs around Danville and was even performing Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady". His mother took him to Chicago and he became known as the "Miniature King of Swing". He played on stage with Louis Armstrong and worked at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. Because he wore white tie and tails, he acquired a second sobriquet, the "Black and White Baby", which became the title of his childhood memoir in 1971.
Completing his schooling, he played in clubs in Danville and then in 1948 he moved to Los Angeles for a residency. He appeared in London and Paris and then signed with Atlantic Records in New York, making the albums Songs by Bobby Short (1955) and Speaking of Love (1956). He said that his criterion for selecting material was that "first a song has to be beautiful." His clear enunciation brought out the best in the lyrics and he would add some Harlem vaudeville licks to his sophisticated playing.
Here's "Gimme A Pigfoot" from above 1955 album
In 1968 he performed in concert with the highly respected singer Mabel Mercer in Manhattan's Town Hall, which led to two popular albums, Mabel Mercer and Bobby Short at Town Hall (1968) and Mercer and Short: Second Town Hall Concert (1969). His other albums include Bobby Short Loves Cole Porter (1971), Bobby Short Celebrates Rodgers and Hart (1975), K-R-A-Z-Y For Gershwin (1990), How's Your Romance? (1997) and You're the Top: love songs of Cole Porter (1999).
Also 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. There, a combination of traits – his seemingly-effortless elegance; his vocal phrasing (perfected, as was that of Frank , at the feet of Miss Mabel Mercer, with perhaps also some help from Ethel Waters); his talent for presenting unknown songs worth knowing while keeping well-known songs fresh; his infectious good cheer; and his resolute, self-disciplined professionalism – earned him great respect and made him tremendously popular. Bobby Short was generous with his impromptu all-night performances at his various favorite cafes and restaurants. He was a regular patron at Ted Hook's Backstage, located at Eight Avenue and Forty-Fifth Street.
Woody Allen loved his work, featuring him in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) and using his version of Cole Porter's "I Happen To Like New York" on the credits of Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993). Short appeared in the films Splash with Tom Hanks (1984), Blue Ice with Michael Caine (1992) and For Love or Money with Michael J. Fox (1993). In 2000 the Library of Congress designated Short a Living Legend as part of its bicentennial celebration.
Short announced his retirement from the Cafe Carlyle with his final appearance on New Year's Eve 2004. He died of leukemia at the age of 80 on March 21, 2005. He once joked, "One day I might learn to read music properly, but Erroll Garner once told me, 'Man, who's gonna pay to hear you read?' (Info edited from Wikipedia & www.Independent.co.uk)