A quick overview on Darin’s career
Bobby Darin was an American singer-songwriter and actor. In his time, Darin was considered as one of the most versatile artists, even up to now. His resolve not to commit himself to one genre led him to perform jazz, pop, country, swing and rock songs. He also performed standards as well as politically-charged folk and protest numbers. He started his music career as a songwriter, most notably for Connie Francis (with whom he had a short-lived romantic relationship which was not approved of by her father). After his work at Decca Records, he moved to Atlantic Records in the late 1950s. There, Darin rose to stardom through his self-penned hit “Splish Splash” in 1958. Very soon, other hits followed such “Queen of the Hop,” “Dream Lover” (another self-penned work) and his interpretation of Kurt Weill’s “Mack The Knife.” Darin’s rendition is still considered to be one of the most famous versions. Also, another most famous interpretation that Darin did was “Beyond The Sea,” the jazzy English-language take of the French surprise chanson hit “La Mer” (by Charles Trenet). In the 1960s, Darin’s material turned toward folk, and his 1966 single written by Tim Hardin “If I Were A Carpenter” was a #8 pop hit. Around this time, Darin became more politically involved, having worked with Robert Kennedy particularly on the latter’s 1968 presidential bid. Darin also appeared on television and film, including That Funny Feeling and his own program The Bobby Darin Amusement Company, which aired from 1972 until his death in 1973. Already frail with a rheumatic heart condition since childhood, Darin died in Los Angeles following an open-heart surgery. He was only 37. Darin’s legend and legacy has even grown bigger since his death. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1999; Darin also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His song “Mack the Knife” was ranked at #251 on the Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Songs.
The versatile vocalist
Bobby Darin was born Walden Robert Cassotto on May 14, 1936 in New York City’s The Bronx area. He was brought up by his maternal grandparents, who he thought were his real parents. Darin’s real mother was only 16 when she became pregnant with him. To avoid possible scandal around the circumstances of his birth, her parents devised a plan that Darin’s mother be passed off as his sister. He learned of his true relationship with his “sister” when he was 32.
Darin dropped out of college to perform in local nightclubs, and eventually he also began to develop his songwriting skills. The struggling singer-songwriter was introduced to Connie Francis, who was also just starting her own singing career. Darin helped write songs for her; he also had a short-lived romantic relationship with her, which her father strongly disapproved.
His first stint at Decca Records label brought him very little success. Darin moved to Atlantic Records where he released the novelty song “Splish Splash” that he wrote with Woody Harris. “Splish Splash” became his breakthrough hit, peaking at #3 on the pop charts (and topping the R&B charts as well) in 1958.
Darin’s star status was solidified with another hit “Queen Of The Hop” (#9 pop, #6 R&B) and his self-penned ballad “Dream Lover” (#2 pop, #4 R&B). Around that time Darin cultivated a reputation as a teen idol. But that would change when his cover of Kurt Weill Bertolt Brecht Threepenny Opera standard tune “Mack the Knife,” done in a jazz-pop rendition, resulted in a new direction in his career. Released in August 1959, “Mack the Knife” became Darin’s most successful song, peaking at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and selling over two million copies. The success of “Mack The Knife” also enabled Darin to win two Grammys: one for Best New Artist and another for Record Of The Year, in 1960.
There have been covers of “Mack the Knife” before and since Darin’s version came out (including an earlier version by Louis Armstrong), but Darin’s interpretation is still the most famous of them all.
Darin scored another hit with his English language version of Charles Trenet’s “La Mer,” re-titled as “Beyond the Sea”. Released in 1960, “Beyond the Sea” was also treated with jazz-pop interpretation and became a #6 pop hit.
Even early in his career, Darin made it a point to never stagnate in one particular style, and that made him one of the era’s most versatile artists. He rocked and rolled on “Splish Splash,” and moved to being a ballad crooner, and then a vamping jazz singer the next.
In early 1960s, Darin branched out to country music, with much success. He wrote and recorded country-flavored songs such as “Things” (#3 US, #2 UK), “You’re The Reason I’m Living” (#3 US pop, #9 US R&B), and “18 Yellow Roses” (#10 US pop, #5 US easy listening).
As he grew older, his became more “natural” in terms of his musical material. During the 1960s Darin became more socially and politically aware, and that led him to write and perform folk songs. He covered a song by folk singer Tim Hardin, “If I Were A Carpenter,” which was to be his last Top 10 hit (#8 US, #9 UK). He returned the favor to Hardin by writing him a song titled “Simple Song of Freedom.”
Darin also actively supported Robert Kennedy in the latter’s 1968 presidential campaign. However, during the campaign Kennedy was assassinated in early June. This, and together with his discovering the truth about his family, left Darin devastated. This led him to live in seclusion for a while.
He resurfaced in 1969, and by this time he recorded a lot of folk and protest music on his own label Direction Records. Darin also signed with Motown, but this stint proved to be of little success. In 1970s he joined the Las Vegas circuit, performing songs in his old familiar style which made him famous. In 1972 he also hosted his own TV show The Bobby Darin Amusement Company until his death the following year.
Darin’s health had been frail since birth, and he was well aware that his end would come at any time. He died in December 1973 during an open-heart surgery at a hospital in Los Angeles, California. He was only 37.
Since his death, Bobby Darin’s work has been critically re-evaluated, with a much higher esteem with each passing year. He is one of those few commercially successful artists with a diverse body of work, and this is only the part of his legacy and legend. Darin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, and into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1999; he also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.