Walden Robert Cassotto aka Bobby Darin (vocals, guitar, piano, songwriter; May 14, 1936 – December 20, 1973)
Bobby Darin was one of the most ambitious and versatile performers of the last 60 years. He straddled generations, appealing to bobbysoxers as a teen idol who wrote and recorded “Splish Splash” in 1958 and then winning over their parents as the swaggering, Sinatra-voiced adult who cut the ultimate version of “Mack the Knife” (a song from Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s musical Threepenny Opera) only a year later. Both songs were enormous hits, with “Splish Splash” reaching Number Three and “Mack the Knife” topping the chart for an astounding nine weeks. Darin’s range was as boundless as his brash self-confidence. In 1959, he told a Life magazine reporter that he wanted to be a pop legend by the age of 25, while he allegedly informed another writer that he intended to surpass Frank Sinatra.
Bobby Darin was born Walden Robert Cassotto on May 14, 1936, in the Bronx section of New York City. Although he played several instruments, including piano, drums and guitar, as a child, he never seriously considered a career in music until after he enrolled at Hunter College in Manhattan. After a couple of semesters of college, he got a job as a songwriter for Don Kirshner’s Aldon Music. Kirshner and Darin had both attended the prestigious Bronx High School of Science. While writing songs, Darin met singer Connie Francis, and he helped her write several songs. The two developed a romantic relationship, but her father did not approve, and they soon broke up.
Darin then made the switch from writer to performer and signed with Decca Records. He recorded a few unsuccessful singles for the label. Then, in 1957, he signed with Atco Records. His recordings continued to be unsuccessful until label president Ahmet Ertegun produced “Splish Splash,” a song that Darin had written in 12 minutes. The song reached Number Three in 1958 and sold 100,000 copies in less than a month.
Darin followed that song with the similarly infectious “Queen of the Hop” (Number Nine) and “Dream Lover” (Number Two), which marked his peak as a teen idol. Then, in August 1959, he took the world by surprise with “Mack the Knife.” The song spent nine weeks at Number One and sold two million copies. It also won a Grammy for Record of the Year, while Darin won the Grammy for Best New Artist. “Mack the Knife” became his signature song and appeared on the album That’s All, which reflected his courting of a more adult audience.
“Beyond the Sea,” a remake of a 1945 French hit called “La Mer,” had a swinging, big-band-style arrangement. Darin set an attendance record at the Copacabana nightclub in New York and began playing casinos in Las Vegas. While maintaining a prolific recording career, Darin subsequently launched a career in films, appearing in Come September, Too Late Blues and Captain Newman, M.D. In 1960, he married actress Sandra Dee, whom he had met while filming Come September. They had one son before divorcing in 1967.
In the mid-Sixties, Darin’s career took an interesting turn when he began recording material by a new breed of songwriters. His insightful reading of Tim Hardin’s “If I Were a Carpenter” became a Top 10 hit in 1966. A couple albums of original material written in a more folk-oriented vein followed. Subsequently, Hardin had a minor hit in 1969 with his recording of the Darin-penned “Simple Song of Freedom.” Sadly, Darin’s intuition about his premature demise proved true as he died on December 20, 1973, following heart surgery.
In recalling Bobby Darin, former teen idol and fellow traveler Dion DiMucci said: “He could play any instrument, and he was doing jazz and folk and rock and anything else he wanted. He could do it all - and do it all well.”
Darin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1999, and in 2010 he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.