Short was born in Danville, Illinois on September 15, 1924 and was playing the piano by age 4. Within five years, he was performing in saloons to help his family earn extra money during the Great Depression. He later worked in Chicago and then on the vaudeville circuit, eventually headlining major engagements in New York City nightclubs and at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. An engagement with Mabel Mercer at The Town Hall led to his decades-long association with the Café Carlyle.
"The Carlyle is deeply saddened by the passing of Bobby Short," said James McBride, managing director of the Carlyle hotel. "With his quintessential style and sophistication, Bobby Short captured the hearts of us all over the past 35 years at the Café Carlyle. He is an American treasure who will be greatly missed." Short had been scheduled to open his spring engagement at the nightclub on May 3 as part of its 50th anniversary season; in addition, he was to have begun his annual fall engagement there on October 4, culminating in a New Year's Eve celebration.
Nominated for three Grammy Awards, Short was well known for his dedication to the Great American Songbook and for his classy interpretations of the work of such songwriters as Cole Porter and Noël Coward. In 1962, he appeared as Jimmy in the short-lived Broadway production of Sidney Kingsley's Night Life. His television and film credits include The Love Boat, Frasier, Roots: The Next Generation, Blue Ice, and Man of the Century. In the 1970s and '80s, he became famous as the star of a series of television commercials for Charley perfume.
Short recounted his life and career in the autobiographies Black and White Baby and Bobby Short: The Life and Times of a Saloon Singer. He is survived by a brother, a son, and several nieces and nephews.
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