“Mack The Knife,” which held the #1 spot on the Billboard pop chart for an incredible nine weeks in 1959, was a big enough hit for Bobby Darin that it cemented him in many people’s minds as the consummate cool-cat crooner. But Bobby Darin was no mere lounge act. His knack for keeping people guessing first showed itself in his shift from rock-and-roll teen idol to finger-snapping Vegas headliner, but his tendency to move in and out and back and forth among diverse musical genres also took him through phases as a writer-performer of protest-folk, folk-rock and even country-western music. Bobby Darin, one of the most versatile pop stars of his generation, was born Walden Robert Cassotto in the Bronx, New York, on this day in 1936.
Bobby Darin wasn’t the first to swing “Mack The Knife.” Credit for that idea goes to the great Louis Armstrong, who had a #20 pop hit with his jazzed-up version of the signature tune from Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s darkly cynical Threepenny Opera in 1956. It was Darin’s swinging take on “Mack The Knife,” however, that quickly became the definitive version of that ode to a cold-blooded German murderer. It also forced the record-buying public to reassess its image of Darin as a rock-and-roll idol—an image built on his string of late-50s hits like “Splish Splash” (1958), “Queen Of The Hop” (1958) and “Dream Lover” (1959). The shift from teenage music to more grown-up standards like “Mack The Knife,” “Beyond The Sea” (1960) and “You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby” (1961) was not, however, the last major change in direction for Darin.
After establishing himself as a successful recording artist and live performer, Darin moved into acting, making seven films between 1961 and 1963, including one—Captain Newman, M.D. (1963)—for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Over the course of the 1960s, Darin’s musical repertoire shifted first toward country-inspired tunes like 1963’s “18 Yellow Roses” and “You’re The Reason I’m Living,” and then toward politically relevant folk-inspired tunes like the Tim Hardin-penned “If I Were A Carpenter,” which gave Darin his final Top 10 hit in 1966.
Born on this day in 1936, Bobby Darin managed to achieve the goal he shared with Life magazine early in his career: “I’d like to be a legend by the time I’m 25.” His legendary career was cut short, however, when he died of heart failure in 1973 at the age of 37.