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Singer Bobby Short dead at 80

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NEW YORK - Bobby Short, the suave, tuxedoed cabaret singer who epitomized Manhattan glamour and sophistication with renderings of the great American songbook, died of leukemia Monday at 80.

Calling Short “an American treasure," Cafe Carlyle, the nightclub at the Carlyle Hotel where Short was an institution since 1968, said it would close Monday in homage to the musician who helped make it famous.

Over the years, Short withstood constant changes in popular music tastes, from Sinatra to Springsteen to Snoop Dogg, drawing in old fans and making new ones with his repertoire of Broadway, Tin Pan Alley and jazz tunes by Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, the Gershwins, Billy Strayhorn, Harold Arlen.

“My audience expects a certain amount of sophistication when they are coming to hear me," Short, who was born in Danville, Ill., and taught himself the piano as a boy, once said.

Despite his age, Short - who died at New York Presbyterian Hospital - was far from retiring, said Los Angeles-based publicist Virginia Wicks, who announced his death. He was scheduled to open the cafe's 50th anniversary season May 3, and perform again in the fall. But he wanted to make it his last year so he could travel and perform around the world, she said.

“The drill of five nights a week for 12 weeks at a time is something that no longer appeals to me. It's too much," he told The Associated Press last year.

With his classic songs and suave presence, he entertained thousands over the years at the Carlyle. In 2003, he celebrated his 35th anniversary there, as familiar a New York landmark as the Empire State Building or Central Park.

His fans inevitably included the rich and famous: Norman Mailer and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in the '70s, Barbara Walters and Dominick Dunne in the new millennium.

Short hobnobbed with the upper crust, most notably with designer Gloria Vanderbilt. He was one of only a handful of blacks to make it onto the elite Social Register.

“I think it's an expression of democracy at work. I don't come from a high society background. I'm not even a college graduate," he told the AP in 2000.

Former first lady Nancy Reagan fondly remembered Short, saying: “I'll never forget the last time I saw him, when he joined some friends and me for dinner recently in Los Angeles. He sang just for us, and that evening will remain a cherished memory."

As an ambassador of vintage songs, Short played the White House for presidents Nixon, Carter, Reagan and Clinton.

“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."

He was nominated for a Grammy in 2000 for “You're the Top: Love Songs of Cole Porter." In 1993, he was nominated for “Late Night at the Cafe Carlyle."

He appeared in the movie “Hannah and Her Sisters," the TV miniseries “Roots" and the series “In The Heat of the Night."

While suffering from a vocal problem in 1970, Short began his autobiography, “Black and White Baby." In 1995, he updated his memoirs with “Bobby Short: The Life and Times of a Saloon Singer."

Robert Waltrip Short was born Sept. 15, 1924, the ninth of 10 children in a musically inclined family. By age 4, he was playing by ear at the well-worn family piano, recreating songs heard on the radio.

His mother, he told The Associated Press in 1992, “taught survival. I think she had a framework of cast iron."

By age 9, he was performing in saloons around Danville to earn extra money during the Depression. Even then, his material included Ellington's “Sophisticated Lady." Within two years, Short was playing in Chicago as the “Miniature King of Swing."

He did the Midwest vaudeville circuit: St. Louis, Milwaukee, Kansas City. On one date, he teamed with Louis Armstrong. And by 12, he was headlining Manhattan nightclubs and regular engagements at the Apollo Theater.

Afraid of missing out on his youth, Short returned to Danville and high school. Four years later, still a teenager, he was back performing; by 1948, he had a regular gig at Los Angeles' Cafe Gala.

Three years there left Short in what he called “a velvet rut," and he left the United States for London and Paris. His success overseas led to an album for Atlantic Records.

During the '60s, Short's audience began to shrink as the Beatles and the British Invasion dominated music, and suburban flight and urban crime cut into the nightclub business.

He overcome those woes in 1968 with an extraordinary concert featuring singer Mabel Mercer; their live album became a success. He signed a deal with the Cafe Carlyle in the same year: six nights a week, eight months a year at the lounge inside the posh hotel.

“I've survived in the city of New York, not an easy thing to achieve," Short once told the AP. “Most of the dreams I've had for myself have come true. I wanted to come to New York and become successful and work in a smart room and make recordings. I guess I wanted to be famous in a kind of way. I wanted to have money."

During his vacations, Short spent much of his time in Mougins, France. NEW YORK - Bobby Short, the suave, tuxedoed cabaret singer who epitomized Manhattan glamour and sophistication with renderings of the great American songbook, died of leukemia Monday at 80.

Calling Short “an American treasure," Cafe Carlyle, the nightclub at the Carlyle Hotel where Short was an institution since 1968, said it would close Monday in homage to the musician who helped make it famous.

Over the years, Short withstood constant changes in popular music tastes, from Sinatra to Springsteen to Snoop Dogg, drawing in old fans and making new ones with his repertoire of Broadway, Tin Pan Alley and jazz tunes by Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, the Gershwins, Billy Strayhorn, Harold Arlen.

“My audience expects a certain amount of sophistication when they are coming to hear me," Short, who was born in Danville, Ill., and taught himself the piano as a boy, once said.

Despite his age, Short - who died at New York Presbyterian Hospital - was far from retiring, said Los Angeles-based publicist Virginia Wicks, who announced his death. He was scheduled to open the cafe's 50th anniversary season May 3, and perform again in the fall. But he wanted to make it his last year so he could travel and perform around the world, she said.

“The drill of five nights a week for 12 weeks at a time is something that no longer appeals to me. It's too much," he told The Associated Press last year.

With his classic songs and suave presence, he entertained thousands over the years at the Carlyle. In 2003, he celebrated his 35th anniversary there, as familiar a New York landmark as the Empire State Building or Central Park.

His fans inevitably included the rich and famous: Norman Mailer and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in the '70s, Barbara Walters and Dominick Dunne in the new millennium.

Short hobnobbed with the upper crust, most notably with designer Gloria Vanderbilt. He was one of only a handful of blacks to make it onto the elite Social Register.

“I think it's an expression of democracy at work. I don't come from a high society background. I'm not even a college graduate," he told the AP in 2000.

Former first lady Nancy Reagan fondly remembered Short, saying: “I'll never forget the last time I saw him, when he joined some friends and me for dinner recently in Los Angeles. He sang just for us, and that evening will remain a cherished memory."

As an ambassador of vintage songs, Short played the White House for presidents Nixon, Carter, Reagan and Clinton.

“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."

He was nominated for a Grammy in 2000 for “You're the Top: Love Songs of Cole Porter." In 1993, he was nominated for “Late Night at the Cafe Carlyle."

He appeared in the movie “Hannah and Her Sisters," the TV miniseries “Roots" and the series “In The Heat of the Night."

While suffering from a vocal problem in 1970, Short began his autobiography, “Black and White Baby." In 1995, he updated his memoirs with “Bobby Short: The Life and Times of a Saloon Singer."

Robert Waltrip Short was born Sept. 15, 1924, the ninth of 10 children in a musically inclined family. By age 4, he was playing by ear at the well-worn family piano, recreating songs heard on the radio.

His mother, he told The Associated Press in 1992, “taught survival. I think she had a framework of cast iron."

By age 9, he was performing in saloons around Danville to earn extra money during the Depression. Even then, his material included Ellington's “Sophisticated Lady." Within two years, Short was playing in Chicago as the “Miniature King of Swing."

He did the Midwest vaudeville circuit: St. Louis, Milwaukee, Kansas City. On one date, he teamed with Louis Armstrong. And by 12, he was headlining Manhattan nightclubs and regular engagements at the Apollo Theater.

Afraid of missing out on his youth, Short returned to Danville and high school. Four years later, still a teenager, he was back performing; by 1948, he had a regular gig at Los Angeles' Cafe Gala.

Three years there left Short in what he called “a velvet rut," and he left the United States for London and Paris. His success overseas led to an album for Atlantic Records.

During the '60s, Short's audience began to shrink as the Beatles and the British Invasion dominated music, and suburban flight and urban crime cut into the nightclub business.

He overcome those woes in 1968 with an extraordinary concert featuring singer Mabel Mercer; their live album became a success. He signed a deal with the Cafe Carlyle in the same year: six nights a week, eight months a year at the lounge inside the posh hotel.

“I've survived in the city of New York, not an easy thing to achieve," Short once told the AP. “Most of the dreams I've had for myself have come true. I wanted to come to New York and become successful and work in a smart room and make recordings. I guess I wanted to be famous in a kind of way. I wanted to have money."

During his vacations, Short spent much of his time in Mougins, France.

In 1980, after Short appeared with Vanderbilt in TV commercials promoting her designs, Vanderbilt filed a discrimination complaint when a posh apartment building rejected her bid to buy a $1.1 million duplex. She claimed the board was worried that the black singer might marry her. She later dropped the suit.

Short, who never married, lived in Manhattan, sharing an apartment overlooking the East River with his pets. Survivors include his adopted son Ronald Bell and brother Reginald Short, both of California, Wicks said.

-- Associated Press

In 1980, after Short appeared with Vanderbilt in TV commercials promoting her designs, Vanderbilt filed a discrimination complaint when a posh apartment building rejected her bid to buy a $1.1 million duplex. She claimed the board was worried that the black singer might marry her. She later dropped the suit.

Short, who never married, lived in Manhattan, sharing an apartment overlooking the East River with his pets. Survivors include his adopted son Ronald Bell and brother Reginald Short, both of California, Wicks said.

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