Walden Robert Cassotto was born in 1936 in The Bronx, New York. He was brought up by his grandmother and was unaware his real mother was his sister. A fact he did not find out until 1968, when he was poised to take up a career in politics. The identity of his real father was never publicly or privately disclosed. Walden was a frail child and suffered multiple bouts of rheumatic fever leaving him with a diseased heart. Driven by his poverty and illness, and the knowledge he was not long for this Earth, Bobby (a childhood pet name) had an innate talent for music. As a teenager he could play piano, drums and guitar and later added harmonica and xylophone. Bobby loved Al Jolson and admired his golden throat and perfect pitch. After college he wanted a career in theatre and played small nightclubs around New York with a musical combo. During the day he worked as a demo writer then as a demo singer at the Brill Building in New York City, and there he met Connie Francis and Don Kirshner. Walden Robert Cassotto was too much of a mouthful for a stage name and Darin came from seeing a malfunctioning sign which should have read "MANDARIN DUCK" but lit up "DARIN DUCK", instead. It is not clear whether this is historically correct or whether the name was taken at random from the telephone book. He signed for Decca Record in 1957 but found fame at Atco Records in 1958, with his self penned "Splish Splash" and "Dream Lover."
He recorded the album That's All, in the same year.
The single Mack the Knife was the outstanding track from the LP and won the 1959 "Record of the Year" and Bobby Darin the "Best New Artist" Grammy. "Mack the Knife" was number one on the Billboard charts for nine weeks in 1959 and is one of the biggest selling records in history.
Bobby Darin was the first young singer to bridge the single record and album gap between the teenage and adult buying public. In the same year he started on the big club circuit and appeared in Las Vegas with his close friend George Burns. By the mid-1960s Bobby Darin was the youngest headliner at the major casinos in Las Vegas, Nevada, and when he appeared at New York's famed Copacabana he broke all attendance records. Bobby not only sang, but did impeccable impressions, including:
James Cagney, Clark Gable, Jerry Lewis, Tony Bennett, Ray Charles, Rex Harrison, Walter Brennan, Jimmy Stewart, Robert Mitchum, Burt Lancaster, Marlon Brando and Cary Grant.
He had magnetism, danced and choreographed with gusto, and played musical instruments well, including piano, guitar, vibes, harmonica and drums. He was truly an exciting entertainer with sparkling personality which proved popular with adults and teenagers alike. In his private life Bobby was a member of Mensa and had an IQ of 137 (top 2%). Bobby Darin was also a talented actor and appeared in fifteen motion pictures between 1960 and 1973. In 1963 the singer actor was nominated for an Oscar in the film Captain Newman M.D.
To the envy of every young man he married Sandra Dee in 1960 but was divorced six years later. The union produced one son, Dodd Mitchell Darin, who was born in 1961. Bobby was also married to legal secretary Andrea Joy Yaeger in 1973. They divorced shortly before his death. Bobby Darin was a gracious man and encouraged many of his fellow performers including Richard Pryor and Flip Wilson. At the Copacabana he insisted a black comic by the name Nipsey Russell would open the show. Despite managerial resistance Bobby got his way. Bobby gave “Danke Schoen” to Wayne Newton, a gift from his heart, which in 1963 became Newton’s first hit and launched his worldwide career.
In the late 60s Bobby became more aware of events and became a successful protest song singer determined to end the War in Vietnam. His recording of the Tim Hardin classic "If I Were a Carpenter" in 1966 opened up a whole new phase of his career.
Bobby became interested in American politics and was a political activist, working on the 1968 Presidential election campaign of Robert Kennedy. Bobby Darin was deeply moved after the assassination of the Presidential candidate. At the beginning of the 1970s he continued to act and to record, including at Motown Records. Bobby’s pain, shortness of breath worsened in 1971 and he agreed to open-heart surgery. Back performing as soon as he could he would created clever reasons to dash backstage for quick oxygen fix, without the audience knowing. In 1972, he was well enough to star in his own television variety show, on NBC (The Bobby Darin Amusement Company) which ran for two years.
Bobby Darin died in 1973 following surgery to repair a faulty heart valve. Kevin Spacey, acted, directed and produced the film, Beyond the Sea, which was based on Bobby Darin life. Spacey remains a life long fan.
Worth a listen:
Queen of the Hop (1958)
Mack the Knife (1958)
Plain Jane (1959)
Dream Lover (1959)
Beyond The Sea (1960)
Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey? (1960)
You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby (1961)
What'd I Say? (1962)
If I Were a Carpenter (1966)
A Simple Song of Freedom (1967)