Johnny Mathis

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Johnny Mathis

Johnny Mathis in concert at the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez, California, on May 25, 2006.
Background information
Birth nameJohn Royce Mathis
Born(1935-09-30) September 30, 1935 (age 77)
OriginGilmer, Texas
GenresPop music, soul music, easy listening
OccupationsSinger, songwriter, actor
Years active1956–present
LabelsColumbia, Mercury
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Johnny Mathis

Johnny Mathis in concert at the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez, California, on May 25, 2006.
Background information
Birth nameJohn Royce Mathis
Born(1935-09-30) September 30, 1935 (age 77)
OriginGilmer, Texas
GenresPop music, soul music, easy listening
OccupationsSinger, songwriter, actor
Years active1956–present
LabelsColumbia, Mercury

John Royce "Johnny" Mathis (born in Gilmer, Texas, on September 30, 1935) is an American singer of popular music. Starting his career with singles of standard music, he became highly popular as an album artist, with several dozen of his albums achieving gold or platinum status, and 73 making the Billboard charts and Guinness World Record music chart historian Paul Gambaccini, confirms "Johnny Mathis has sold well over 350 million records worldwide".

One of the last and most popular in a line of traditional male vocalists who emerged before the rock-dominated 1960s, Johnny Mathis concentrated on the romantic side of jazz and pop music standards for the adult contemporary audience of the 1960s and 1970s. Mathis later made it big in the market for music albums, where a dozen of his LPs hit gold or platinum. While he concentrated on theme-oriented albums of show tunes and traditional favorites during the 1960s, he began incorporating soft rock by the 1970s and remained a popular concert attraction well into the 1990s.

Unsurprisingly, given his emphasis on long sustained notes and heavy vibrato, Mathis studied with an opera coach prior to his teenage years, and he was nearly lured into the opera singing profession.[1]


Early life

Mathis was born in Gilmer, Texas, the fourth of seven children of Clem Mathis and his wife, Mildred Boyd.[2] This family moved to San Francisco, California, settling on 32nd Ave. in the Richmond District, where young Johnny grew up. His father had worked in vaudeville, and when he saw his son's talent, he bought an old upright piano for $25.00 and encouraged his efforts. Mathis began learning songs and routines from his father. His first known song was "My Blue Heaven."[3] Mathis started singing and dancing for visitors at home, and at school and church functions.[4]

When Johnny was age 13, a voice teacher named Connie Cox accepted him as her student in exchange for doing work around her house.[5] Johnny studied with Ms. Cox for six years, learning vocal scales and exercises, voice production, classical, and operatic singing. He is one of the few popular singers who received years of professional voice training that included opera. The first band Mathis sang with was formed by his fellow high school student Merl Saunders. Mathis eulogized him in October 2008 at his funeral, to thank him for giving him his first chance as a singer.

Johnny Mathis was also a star athlete at George Washington High School in San Francisco. He was a high jumper and a hurdler, and he played on the basketball team. In 1954, he enrolled at the San Francisco State University on an athletic scholarship intending to become an English teacher and a physical education teacher.[5]

Music career

Mathis was spotted at a jam session by Helen Noga, the former head cocktail waitress and co-owner of the Black Hawk Club in San Francisco and The DownBeat Club along with her husband John, and Guido Caccienti. She became his musical manager. The clubs attracted the world's finest jazz musicians, including Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, and Billie Holiday. John Noga and Guido Caccienti had opened the Black Hawk in the fall of 1949. In September 1955, after Noga had found Mathis a job singing weekends at Ann Dee's 440 Club, she contacted the jazz producer George Avakian, whom she had found out was on vacation near San Francisco. Avakian came to listen to Mathis sing, and after doing so, he sent a telegram to Columbia Records stating: Have found phenomenal 19-year-old boy who could go all the way. Send blank contracts.[4]

At San Francisco State, Mathis had become noteworty as a high jumper, and in 1956, he was asked to try out for the U.S. Olympic Team that would travel to Melbourne, Australia, that fall (November 1956).[6] Mathis had to decide whether to go to the Olympic trials, or to keep his appointment in New York City to make his first recordings. On his father's advice, Mathis opted to embark on his professional singing career in 1956, rather than trying to go to Melbourne. His LP record album was published in late 1956 instead of wating until the first quarter of 1957.

Mathis's first record album Johnny Mathis: A New Sound In Popular Song was a slow-selling jazz album, but Mathis stayed in New York City to sing in nightclubs. His second album was produced by the Columbia Records vice-president and record producer Mitch Miller, who helped to define the Mathis sound. Miller preferred that Mathis sing soft, romantic ballads, pairing him up with the conductor and music arranger Ray Conniff, and later, Ray Ellis, Glenn Osser, and Robert Mersey. In late 1956, Mathis recorded two of his most popular songs: Wonderful! Wonderful! and It's Not For Me To Say.

Also that year the Metro Goldwyn Mayer film company signed up Mathis to sing the latter song in the movie Lizzie (1957). Shortly afterwards, Mathis made his second film appearance for 20th Century Fox, singing the song A Certain Smile in the film of that title. He had small acting roles in both movies as a bar singer. This early cinematic visibility in two successful movies gave him mass exposure. Next was his appearance on the popular and widespread TV program The Ed Sullivan Show in 1957. This helped Mathis to increase his popularity. Critics called him the velvet voice.[3]

Mathis also appeared during this period on ABC-TV's The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom, as also did the other Negro entertainers Ella Fitzgerald and Pearl Bailey.

Johnny Mathis in 1960.

During the summer of 1958, Mathis left San Francisco with the Nogas, who sold their interest in the Black Hawk club that year to Max Weiss, the secretary-treasurer of San Francisco's avant-garde Fantasy Records, and he moved to Beverly Hills, California where the Nogas bought a house where Mathis resided with them, their daughter Beverly, and their granddaughter. This house was later sold to the singer Dionne Warwick during the summer of 1973 for about $360,000.

Helen Noga, looking to expand her operations into production, financing, and publishing, also founded and funded Philles Records in 1961 with Phil Spector, with Lester Sills handling the business side of sales and promotion, which launched the Crystals in September 1961. Using money from Liberty Records, Noga was bought out by Spector in 1962 for around $60,000. Mathis had two of his biggest hits in the years 1962 and 1963, with "Gina" (#6) and "What Will Mary Say" (#9). In October 1964, Mathis sued Noga to void the management arrangement, which Noga fought with a counterclaim in December 1964. Mathis purchased a mansion in the Hollywood Hills, that was originally built by billionaire Howard Hughes in 1946, and later owned by hotel owner Hyatt R. Von Dehn and Oilman Robert Calhoun, and where he still maintains a residence.

After splitting from Mrs. Noga, Mathis established Jon Mat Records, Inc., incorporated in California May 11, 1967, to produce his recordings (previously, he created Global Records, Inc. to produce his Mercury albums), and Rojon Productions, Inc., incorporated in California September 30, 1964, to handle all of his concert, theater, showroom, and television appearances, and all promotional and charitable activities. His new manager and business partner was Ray Haughn, who helped guide his career until his death in September 1984. Since that time, Mathis has taken sole responsibility for his career, operating from office suites at 1612 W Olive Avenue in Burbank, California. With the exception of a four-year break with Mercury Records in the mid-1960s, he has been with Columbia Records throughout his recording career.

Pieces of music from numerous Mathis albums continue to be used throughout motion pictures and television with great effect to impart nostalgia or mood themes, for example Chances Are was played during an extraterrestrial visit in the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), as well as Wonderful! Wonderful! being used in the standout Home episode of the fourth season of The X-Files television series. Also various of Mathis's songs have been played more recently in the TV series Mad Men.

Although he is frequently described as a romantic singer, his discography includes jazz, traditional pop, Brazilian music, Spanish music, soul music, rhythm and blues, soft rock, Broadway theatre, Tin Pan Alley standards, some blues and country songs, and even a few disco songs for his album Mathis Magic in 1979. During 1980 - 81 Mathis recorded an album with Chic's Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers, I Love My Lady, which remains unreleased, the only official appearance of any material from the project being the inclusion of three tracks on a Chic box set in 2010. Mathis also remains associated with holiday music[clarification needed], having recorded five albums of Christmas music. He has the distinction of having the longest tenure of any recording artist on the Columbia Records label, having been with the label from 1956 to 1963 and from 1968 to the present.

In 1958, Johnny’s Greatest Hits was released and was the first ever Greatest Hits album in the music industry. It began the Greatest Hits tradition copied by every record company. The his LP album Johnny's Greatest Hits in 1958 spent an unprecedented 491 consecutive weeks through 1967 (nine and a half years) on the Billboard top 100 album charts, earning him a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records. He has had five of his albums on the Billboard charts simultaneously, an achievement equaled by only two other singers, Frank Sinatra, and Barry Manilow. He has released 200 singles and had 71 songs charted around the world. Recordings Historian Paul Gambaccini confims Mathis recordings have sold well over 350 million worldwide and he is the third most successful recording artist in the USA. This makes Johnny Mathis the third biggest selling recording artist of the 20th century, only after Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra.[citation needed]

Mathis has also won three Grammy awards. Then in 1978, his hit duet "The Last Time I Felt Like This" from the film Same Time, Next Year was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Mathis and Jane Olivor sang the song at the Academy Awards ceremony, in his second performance at the Oscars. He has taped twelve of his own television specials and made over 300 television guest appearances with 33 of them being on The Tonight Show. Through the years his songs (or parts of them) have been heard in 100 plus television shows and films around the globe. His appearance on the Live by Request broadcast in May 1998 on the A&E Network had the largest television viewing audience of the series. Also in 1989, Johnny sang the theme for the ABC daytime soap opera Loving.

Mathis continues to perform live, but from 2000 forward, he has limited his concert performances to about fifty to sixty per year. In 2006, his schedule included a British tour that included his annual Scottish golf vacation and attending the 2006 Ryder Cup tournament, two periods at his favourite Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The Tonight Show host Johnny Carson said: "Johnny Mathis is the best ballad singer in the world." He appeared on the NBC Tonight Show with Jay Leno[7] as a guest on March 29, 2007, to sing his classic song The Shadow of Your Smile with the saxophonist Dave Koz. Mathis returned to the British Top 20 album chart in 2007 with the Sony BMG release The Very Best of Johnny Mathis and again in 2008 with the Columbia CD "A Night to Remember". In 2007, Mathis was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.

A performance by Mathis in Florida in 2009 earned him $65,000 in artist fees and royalties.[8]

Mathis's song Wonderful! Wonderful! was used in the conclusion to the long running TV series Desperate Housewives as "Karen McClusky" passed away.

Personal life

In a 1982 Us Magazine article, Mathis was quoted as having said, "Homosexuality is a way of life that I've grown accustomed to."[9] Us Magazine later retracted the statement.[10] After more than 20 years of silence on the subject, Mathis revealed in an interview, in 2006, that his silence was due to death threats he received as a result of that 1982 article.[11][12] On April 13, 2006, Mathis granted a podcast interview with The Strip in which he talked about the subject once again, and how some of his reticence to speak on the subject was partially generational.[13]

Despite missing the Olympic high jump trials, he has never abandoned his enthusiasm for sports and today is an avid golfer who has achieved nine holes-in-one, and has hosted several Johnny Mathis Golf Tournaments in the United Kingdom and the US. Since 1985 he has been hosting a charity golf tournament in Belfast sponsored by Shell corporation,[clarification needed] and the annual Johnny Mathis Invitational Track & Field Meet has continued at San Francisco State University since it started in 1982.

In 1982 he published a cookbook, Cooking for You Alone.

Mathis has undergone rehabilitation for both alcohol and prescription drug addictions.[5]

He has supported many organizations through the years, including the American Cancer Society, the March of Dimes, the YWCA and YMCA, the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the NAACP.

Grammy history

Mathis received the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003, by the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. This Special Merit Award is presented by vote of the Recording Academy's National Trustees to performers who, during their lifetimes, have made creative contributions of outstanding artist significance to the field of recording.[14]

Grammy Hall of Fame

Johnny Mathis was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, which is a special Grammy award established in 1973 to honor recordings that are at least twenty-five years old, and that have "qualitative or historical significance."[15][16]

Grammy Hall of Fame Awards
Year RecordedTitleGenreLabelYear Inducted
1957"It's Not for Me to Say"Traditional Pop (Single)Columbia2008
1959"Misty"Traditional Pop (Single)Columbia2002
1957"Chances Are"Traditional Pop (Single)Columbia1998



YearSingleChart positions
1957"Wonderful! Wonderful"14
"It's Not For Me To Say"5
"Chances Are"112
"The Twelfth of Never"9
"No Love (But Your Love)"21
"Wild Is the Wind"22
1958"Come To Me"22
"All the Time"21
"Teacher, Teacher"2127
"A Certain Smile"144
"Call Me"21
"Winter Wonderland."17
1959"Let's Love"44
"You Are Beautiful"6038
"Small World"20
"You Are Everything To Me"109
"The Story of Our Love"93
"The Best of Everything"6230
"My Love For You"479
"How To Handle a Woman"64
1961"You Set My Heart To Music"107
"Wasn't the Summer Short?"89
1962"Sweet Thursday"99
1963"What Will Mary Say"932149
"Every Step of the Way"3010
"Sooner or Later"84
"Come Back"61
"Your Teenage Dreams"6819
"I'll Search My Heart"90
1964"Bye Bye Barbara"5317
"The Fall of Love"120
"Taste of Tears"87
"Listen Lonely Girl"6211
1965"Take the Time"10432
"Sweetheart Tree"10821
"On a Clear Day You Can See Forever"986
1966"So Nice (Samba de Verao)"17
1967"Two Tickets and a Candy Heart"38
"Don't Talk To Me"21
"Misty Roses"40
"You Make Me Think About You"35
1969"The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)"39
"I'll Never Fall In Love Again"35
"Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet (A Time For Us)"968
"Midnight Cowboy"20
1970"Odds and Ends"30
"Wherefore and Why"17
"Pieces of Dreams"9
"Evil Ways"30
1971"Ten Times Forever More"32
1972"Make It Easy On Yourself"10316
"Soul and Inspiration/For Once In My Life"37
1973"Take Good Care of Her"40
"Show and Tell"36
"I'm Coming Home"75192
"Life Is a Song Worth Singing"54865
1974"Sweet Child"35
1975"Sail On White Moon"39
"I'm Stone In Love With You"1610
1976"One Day In Your Life"36
"Yellow Roses On Her Gown"44
"Do Me Wrong, But Do Me"25
"When a Child Is Born"1
1977"Loving You-Losing You"29
1978"Too Much, Too Little, Too Late" **1113
"You're All I Need To Get By" **47161045
1979"The Last Time I Felt Like This" ***15
"Begin the Beguine"37
"Gone, Gone, Gone"15
1980"Different Kinda Different" #-81
1982"Friends In Love" ##38522
1984"Love Won't Let Me Wait" **1061432
1985"Right From the Heart"38
1988"I'm On the Outside Looking In"27
1992"Better Together" ###68
2003"Frosty the Snowman"29

NB. Duet partners: * - Gladys Knight, ** - Deniece Williams, *** - Jane Olivor, # - Paulette, ## - Dionne Warwick, ### - Regina Belle


Million sellers

Mathis' million selling discs include the singles "Wonderful Wonderful", "It's Not For Me To Say", "Chances Are" (over two million), "Misty" (over two million), "When A Child Is Born" ( over 6 million worldwide ) and "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late" (over five million). His million selling albums include Johnny's Greatest Hits (approaching five million), Merry Christmas (approximately six million), Heavenly (over two million), Give Me Your Love For Christmas, All Time Greatest Hits (over two million) and You Light Up My Life (also over two million).



  1. ^
  2. ^ "For Blacks And Jews, A Musical Gray Area" Eric Herschthal, Jewish Week, October 12, 2010
  3. ^ a b "The Incomparable Mr. Johnny Mathis". Station Avenue Productions. April 3, 2006. Retrieved 2007-02-02. 
  4. ^ a b "Johnny Mathis". Las Vegas Online Entertainment Guide. 2006. Retrieved 2007-02-02. 
  5. ^ a b c Richard Ouzounian (2009-08-22). "Johnny Mathis: A born crooner". Toronto Star. 
  6. ^ "Johnny Mathis Official Website". Retrieved May 12, 2011. 
  7. ^ "NBC Tonight Show with Jay Leno". 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-31. 
  8. ^ Spitzer, Michelle (4 December 2009). "King Center eases concerns over losses". Melbourne, Florida: Florida Today. pp. 1A. 
  9. ^ "Shaking the Closet: Analyzing Johnny Mathis's Sexual Elusiveness, 1956-82", Vincent Stephens, Popular Music and Society, Vol. 33 #5, December 2010, pp. 597-623
  10. ^ Gold, Plunkett & Sneed (1982-06-11). "Inc.". Chicago Tribune: p. A20. 
  11. ^ "Report on interview with the Daily Express". New York Daily News. 10 March 2006. Retrieved 2007-02-02. 
  12. ^ "Johnny Mathis In Death Threats". 26 February 2006. Retrieved 2007-02-02. 
  13. ^ (.MP3) Johnny Mathis. The Strip. 13 April 2006. Retrieved 2007-02-02. 
  14. ^ Lifetime Achievement Award
  15. ^ Grammy Hall of Fame Database
  16. ^ 2008 Grammy Hall of Fame List
  17. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 355. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 

External links

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
"Bohemian Rhapsody"
UK Christmas Number One Single
"When a Child Is Born"
Succeeded by
"Mull of Kintyre"