Bobby Short was a singer and pianist whose career spanned seven decades. An interpreter of American popular music, he became a performer in childhood and remained active until his death. He is best known for his more than 35 years as performer-in-residence at the Hotel Carlyle's Café Carlyle in New York City. This collection contains personal papers and photographs as well as business papers, musical materials and photographs relating to Mr. Short's career as a performing artist.
Scope and Contents:
This collection consists of personal materials relating to Mr. Short's childhood, family, and friends as well as business materials relating to his career as a performer. These include photographs, correspondence, business documents, periodicals, musical materials, manuscripts and awards. Most of the material is arranged chronologically. The container list is detailed as to the type and date of the materials.
Series 1, Personal Materials, circa 1908-2005. This series is divided into four Subseries:
Early Life in Danville, Illinois; Awards, Honors, and Milestones; Personal Ephemera and Miscellaneous Publications; and Original Artworks owned by Bobby Short.
Subseries 1 includes poems written in childhood and two high school annuals. Subseries 2 includes numerous citations and awards as well as three Grammy nominations. Subseries 4 contains small prints and sketches as well as larger works by various artists.
Series 2, Correspondence, circa 1950-2005. This Series is divided into three Subseries: Personal Correspondence; Correspondence with Celebrities and Notable People; and Business Correspondence and Related Materials. The material is arranged chronologically.
The material in Subseries 1 and 2 consists of letters, telegrams, invitations, and notes.
Series 3, Photographs, circa 1908-2005. This Series is divided into six Subseries:
With and of Family and Friends; With Celebrities and Notable People; Other Performers, Notable People, and Autographed; In Performance; Publicity, Fashion, and Advertising; and Photographs of Artworks Depicting Bobby Short.
Subseries 1 contains a number of early family photographs and early photographs of Bobby Short. Subseries 1 and 3 include photographs by Carl Van Vechten. Subseries 1 and 5 include photographs by Horst, Hurrell, and Scavullo. Subseries 4 contains photographs of Bobby Short in performance, both alone and with others.
Series 4, Contracts and Related Documents, 1953-2005. This series is divided into six Subseries: Appearances in the United States and Foreign Countries; Film, Radio and Television Appearances; Recording Contracts, Royalty Statements and Related Materials; Print, Radio and Television Advertising; Licensing Proposals; and Union and Labor Department Documents.
Subseries 1 is arranged as follows: Hotel Carlyle Contracts; United States Contracts arranged alphabetically by state. These are followed by foreign contracts arranged alphabetically by name of country. Subseries 2 is arranged as follows: contracts and related materials for radio appearances, television appearances and appearances in films. Subseries 3 consists of recording contracts and royalty statements arranged chronologically and by company. Subseries 4, 5, and 6 are arranged chronologically.
Series 5, Programs, Publicity, and Promotion, 1956-1996. This series is divided into three Subseries: Programs for Performances by Bobby Short; Newspaper Clippings and Magazines; and Promotional Materials.
Subseries 1 consists primarily of programs for performances at concert halls. Subseries 2 consists largely of newspaper and entertainment magazine notices from the 1950s and 1960s. Subseries 3 includes flyers, announcements and table cards.
Series 6, Special Events, 1963-2003. This series consists of materials relating to special events such as charity benefits and anniversary celebrations at which Short performed or was otherwise involved. Several of these events benefited the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Series 7, Musical Materials, circa 1920s-1995. This series consists of a variety of materials relating to music; publications, sheet music, lyrics, recording contracts, album covers, and two 45 rpm recordings. Song lists, discographies, and articles about music are included.
Series 8, Theatrical Productions as Producer or Investor, 1979-1988 This series consists of contracts and performance materials for productions for which Bobby Short acted as a producer and/or investor. Programs, correspondence, and publicity materials are included; also partnership documents and financial statements.
Series 9, Manuscripts, Research, and Publishing Materials, circa 1954-1997. This series is arranged in two Subseries: Writings: Bobby Short; Writings: Others.
Subseries 1 includes a partial manuscript for Black and White Baby and research and other materials for a proposed volume, Black Lady Singers, that was not written. Subseries 2 consists of miscellaneous writings by others including a partial script for a play, Tinsel Town, and a film script, Johnny Twennies.
The papers are arranged in nine series
Series 1, Personal Materials, circa 1908-2005
Subseries 1, Early Life in Danville, Illinois, 1924-1942
Subseries 2, Awards, Honors and Milestones, 1964-2005
Subseries 3, Personal Ephemera and Miscellaneous Publications, 1937-2002
Subseries 4, Original Artworks Owned by Bobby Short, 1841-1990s
Series 2, Correspondence, circa 1938-2005
Subseries 1, Personal Correspondence, 1950s-2004
Subseries 2, Correspondence with Celebrities and Notable People, 1962-2004
Subseries 3, Business Correspondence and Related materials, 1938-2005
Series 3, Photographs, circa 1908-2005
Subseries 1, With and of Family and Friends, circa 1908-2005
Subseries 2, With Celebrities and Notable People, circa 1953-1990s
Subseries 3, Other Performers, Notable People, and Autographed, circa 1920s-1990s
Subseries 4, In Performance and Related Subjects, circa 1940s-2001
Subseries 5, Publicity, Fashion, and Advertising, circa 1930s-2000s
Subseries 6, Photographs of Artworks Depicting Bobby Short, circa 1960s-1990s
Series 4, Contracts and Related Documents, circa 1953-2005
Subseries 1, Appearances in the United States and Foreign Countries, circa 1953-2005
Subseries 2, Radio, Television, and Film Appearances, 1978-2000
Subseries 3, Recording Contracts, Royalty Statements and Related Materials, 1955-2003
Subseries 4, Print, Radio and Television Advertising, 1976-1997
Subseries 5, Licensing Proposals, 1984-2000
Subseries 6, Union and Labor Department Documents, 1981-2005
Series 5, Programs, Publicity, and Promotion, 1956-1996
Subseries 1, Programs for Performances by Bobby Short
Subseries 2, Newspaper Clippings and Magazines
Subseries 3, Promotional Materials
Series 6, Special Events, 1963-2003
Series 7, Musical Materials, circa 1920-1995
Series 8, Theatrical Productions as Producer or Investor, 1979-1988
Series 9, Manuscripts, Research, And Publishing Materials, circa 1954-1997
Subseries 1, Writings: Bobby Short
Subseries 2, Writings: Others
Biographical / Historical:
Bobby Short (Robert Waltrip Short) was born to Rodman and Myrtle Short on September 15, 1924, in Danville, Illinois. He was one of six surviving children. As part of the town's relatively small African American community, the Short family maintained a middle-class standard of living, even during the Great Depression. Rodman Short pursued several occupations but spent most of his life as a coal miner in West Virginia and was seldom at home. Myrtle Short, a domestic worker, was a fastidious housekeeper who expected a high standard of deportment in her children. In Bobby Short's first memoir, Black and White Baby, he wrote: "Except for our color, we conformed in almost every degree to the image of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant-in our manners, our mores, and our way of life." Music was an important part of that life; many members of the extended family played instruments or sang, some professionally. Short first played a song by ear at the family upright piano when he was four years old and began his life-long love affair with words and music. Church, school, vaudeville, and minstrel shows provided his earliest musical influences and repertoire; his innate musicality and enthusiasm enabled him to become a skilled performer at an early age. By the time he was ten years old, he was playing and singing in local night spots and as far away as Indianapolis. At twelve, he was playing in vaudeville, at times billed as "the Miniature King of Swing." At thirteen, he returned to Danville, attended high school, and after graduating in 1942, left his home town to begin his professional life in earnest.
Short spent the 1940s and early 1950s as an increasingly successful entertainer in sophisticated night clubs and jazz venues in Chicago and other Midwestern cities, California, and New York, as well as Paris and London. While his early repertoire featured novelty songs and boogie-woogie, as he matured he embraced the standards of Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and other notable composers and song writers. He enthusiastically promoted the work of African American composers such as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller and Andy Razaf. His encyclopedic knowledge of popular songs, both the well-known and the obscure, gave his performances a freshness that delighted his audiences.
In 1956, Short moved to New York City, taking up residence in a Carnegie Hall studio apartment. His career as a "saloon singer" (his words) continued in New York and in frequent visits to the Midwest and California. He appeared in theatrical roles and began recording for Atlantic Records. In 1968 his concert at Carnegie Hall with Mabel Mercer led to his engagement at the intimate Café Carlyle at the Hotel Carlyle. He remained there, playing for six months of the year, for the rest of his life. His performances at the Carlyle made him a darling of society and an icon of sophisticated New York style. In the early 1970s his album "Bobby Short Loves Cole Porter" introduced him to a larger audience; he published his first memoir, Black and White Baby, in 1971.
Short recorded numerous albums, earning several Grammy nominations. He appeared on radio and television, occasionally acted on stage and was seen in small roles in several films. He produced "Black Broadway," a theatrical review featuring many veteran performers he had long revered; he was instrumental in the revival of Alberta Hunter's career. Four Presidents--Nixon, Carter, Clinton and Reagan--invited him to perform at the White House. When he was not at the Café Carlyle, he traveled extensively in the United States and abroad, appearing in both night clubs and symphony halls. Success enabled him to purchase a villa in the south of France. His second memoir, Bobby Short, the Life and Times of a Saloon Singer, was published in 1995. Short earned many awards and honors during his lengthy career and was named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress in 1999. He died in New York on March 21, 2005.
Sources: Short, Bobby. Black and White Baby, New York: Dodd, Mead & Company,1971.
Short, Bobby (with Robert Mackintosh). Bobby Short, the Life and Times of a Saloon Singer, New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1995.
Objects (2006.0071): awards, clothing, medals, and a music portfolio, including thirteen sound recordings (1984.0134), are housed in the Division of Music, Sports, and Entertainment (now Division of Cultural and Community Life), National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.
Bequeathed to the Smithsonian Institution by Bobby Short.
This collection is open for research use.
Physical Access: Researchers must handle unprotected photographs with gloves. Researchers must use reference copies of audio-visual materials. When no reference copy exists, the Archives Center staff will produce reference copies on an "as needed" basis, as resources allow. Researchers must use photocopies of scrapbooks due to the fragility of the originals, unless special access is approved.
Technical Access: Listening to sound recordings requires special appointment; please inquire.
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.