- The Washington Times - Monday, March 21, 2005

NEW YORK — Cabaret singer Bobby Short, the tuxedoed embodiment of New York style and sophistication who was a fixture at his piano in the Carlyle Hotel for more than 35 years, died yesterday. He was 80.

Mr. Short, whose career spanned more than 70 years, died of leukemia at New York Presbyterian Hospital, said Virginia Wicks, his Los Angeles-based publicist.

As times changed and popular music shifted from Sinatra to Springsteen to Snoop Dogg, Mr. Short remained irrevocably devoted to the “great American songbook.” Tunes by Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, the Gershwins, Billy Strayhorn and Harold Arlen were his forte.

With his classic songs and suave presence, he entertained thousands over the years in the Carlyle’s Upper East Side boite.

He planned to make this his final year at the Carlyle but was far from retiring.

“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 Associated Press last year.

He soon had a change of heart.

“It was my decision at that time to step down. But I don’t believe in retirement, and I thought, ‘If I don’t work, what will I do,’” Mr. Short told The Washington Times in September, when he performed what would be his final engagement at the Kennedy Center (with the National Symphony Orchestra Pops).

Mr. Short 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.”

When he 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” and also the television miniseries “Roots” and the NBC drama “In the Heat of the Night.”

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, re-creating songs heard on the radio.

By age 9, the self-taught pianist was performing in saloons around his Danville, Ill., home to earn extra money during the Depression. Even then, his material included Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady.” Within two years, Mr. Short graduated to playing Chicago under his nickname, the “Miniature King of Swing.”

He later performed in London and Paris, and his success overseas led to an album for Atlantic Records.

His Carlyle gig opened the door to even greater exposure, most notably an ad for Revlon’s Charlie perfume, which featured Mr. Short tickling the ivories and singing the praises of the fragrance. “That commercial ran for a long time, and I have a house in the south of France because of that ad,” Mr. Short said in his interview with The Washington Times.

Mr. Short hobnobbed with the upper crust, which included a friendship with Gloria Vanderbilt. He was one of just a handful of blacks to make it onto the elite Social Register.

In 1980, after Mr. Short appeared with Miss Vanderbilt in television ads promoting her designs, the noted heiress and fashion designer filed a discrimination complaint against the posh River House apartments, which had 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.

Mr. Short, who never married, lived in Manhattan, sharing an apartment overlooking the East River with his pets. He is survived by his adopted son, Ronald Bell, and brother Reginald Short, both of California, Miss Wicks said.

R. Denise Yourse contributed to this report.

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