March 21, 2005
NEW YORK - Cabaret singer Bobby Short, the tuxedoed embodiment of New York style and sophistication and a fixture at his piano in the Carlyle Hotel for more than 35 years, died Monday, a spokeswoman said. He was 80.
Short died of leukemia at New York Presbyterian Hospital, said Virginia Wicks, a Los Angeles-based publicist. The hospital did not immediately return a call seeking further detail.
In 2003, he celebrated his 35th anniversary at the Carlyle's Upper East Side boite.
As times changed and popular music shifted from Sinatra to Springsteen to Snoop Dogg, Short, a three-time Grammy nominee, remained irrevocably devoted to the "great American songbook": songs by Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, the Gershwins, Billy Strayhorn, Harold Arlen.
"I go back to what I heard Marian Anderson say once: `First a song has to be beautiful,'" Short told The New York Times in 2002. "However, `beautiful' covers a wide range of things. I have to admire a song's structure and what it's about. But I also have to determine how I can transfer my affection for a song to an audience; I have to decide whether I can put it across."
Short, despite his veneration of the classics, was no nostalgia act. His musical taste, like his smooth voice and elegant wardrobe, was always impeccable. As an ambassador of vintage songs, Short played the White House for presidents Nixon, Carter, Reagan and Clinton.
"My audience," he once said, "expects a certain amount of sophistication when they are coming to hear me."
When Short first played the Cafe Carlyle in 1968, the Vietnam War was raging and Mayor John Lindsay was in City Hall. The quintessential "saloon singer" remained through another five administrations, becoming as familiar a New York landmark as the Empire State Building or Central Park.
He appeared in the movies "Hannah and Her Sisters" and "Splash," along with the television miniseries "Roots" and the program "In The Heat of the Night."