Johnny Mathis in concert at the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez, California, on May 25, 2006.
|Birth name||John Royce Mathis|
|Born||September 30, 1935 (age 76)|
|Origin||Gilmer, Texas, United States|
|Genres||Pop, soul, easy listening, Country Music|
|Occupations||Singer, songwriter, actor|
John Royce "Johnny" Mathis (born September 30, 1935) is an American singer of popular music. Starting his career with singles of standards, 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. According to Guinness Book of World Records writer and charts music historian Paul Gambaccini, Johnny Mathis has sold 350 million records worldwide.
Mathis was born in Gilmer, Texas, the fourth of seven children of Clem Mathis and his wife, Mildred Boyd, an African-American. Their family moved to San Francisco, California, settling on 32nd Ave. in the Richmond District, where he grew up. His father had worked in vaudeville, and when he saw his son's talent, he bought an old upright piano for US$25 and encouraged his efforts. Mathis began learning songs and routines from his father; his first song being "My Blue Heaven." Mathis started singing and dancing for visitors at home, and at school and church functions.
When Mathis was thirteen, Connie Cox, a voice teacher, accepted him as her student in exchange for his work around her house. He studied with Cox for six years, learning vocal scales and exercises, voice production, classical and operatic skills. He is one of the few popular singers who received years of professional voice training that included opera. The first band Mathis would sing with was formed by fellow high school student Merl Saunders. Mathis eulogized him in October, 2007 at his funeral, to thank him for giving him his first chance as a singer.
Mathis was a star athlete at George Washington High School. He was a high jumper and hurdler, and played on the basketball team, earning four athletic letters. In 1954, he enrolled at San Francisco State University on a scholarship, intending to become an English and physical education teacher.
He was spotted at a jam session by , former head cocktail waitress and co-owner of The Black Hawk Club at 200 Hyde Street in San Francisco and along with her husband John, and . She became his 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 for $10,000. In September 1955, after Noga landed Mathis a job singing weekends at Ann Dee's , she ruthlessly pursued jazz producer George Avakian, who she found out was on vacation in the Bay Area. Avakian came to see him sing, and subsequently sent a telegram to Columbia Records noting: Have found phenomenal 19-year old boy who could go all the way. Send blank contracts.
At San Francisco State, Mathis had gained fame as a high jumper and in early 1956, he had been asked to attend the trials for the 1956 Olympic teams that would travel to Melbourne, Australia that summer. Mathis now had to decide whether to go to the Olympic tryouts, or to keep an appointment in New York to make his first recordings, which were subsequently released in 1956. With his father's advice, Mathis opted for a recording career.
His first album Johnny Mathis: A New Sound In Popular Song was a slow-selling jazz album, but Mathis stayed in New York to play the clubs. His second album was produced by Columbia records vice-president and producer Mitch Miller, who defined the Mathis sound - he preferred him to sing soft, romantic ballads, initially pairing him with arranger/conductor Ray Conniff, and later, Ray Ellis, Glenn Osser and . In late 1956, Mathis recorded two of his most popular songs - "Wonderful! Wonderful!" and "It's Not For Me To Say." That year MGM signed Mathis to sing the latter song in the 1957 film Lizzie, and shortly afterward he made his second film appearance for 20th Century Fox singing the song "A Certain Smile" in the film of the same name. 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 very popular Ed Sullivan Show in 1957, which helped to boost his profile. Critics called him the velvet voice. He also appeared at this time on ABC's The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom, as did other black entertainers Ella Fitzgerald and Pearl Bailey.
In a 1982 Us Magazine article, Mathis was quoted as having said, "Homosexuality is a way of life that I've grown accustomed to." Us Magazine later retracted the statement. 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. 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 of the subject was partially generational.
Despite missing the Olympic high jump trials, he has never abandoned his enthusiasm for sports and today is an avid golfer who has achieved six 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, 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 rehab for both alcohol and prescription drug addictions.
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.
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."
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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" 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).
- Johnny Mathis at the Internet Broadway Database
- Johnny Mathis at the Internet Movie Database
- Johnny Mathis Official website
- Johnny Mathis at Sony website
- Mathis, Johnny-AMG discography — Allmusic
- Johnny Mathis at The Mathis Chronicles
- Johnny Mathis NPR Audio: with Ed Gordon
- Dave Koz f/ Johnny Mathis "The Shadow of Your Smile" NBC Audio: The Tonight Show
- Thom Bell talks about his classic Johnny Mathis produced album I'm Coming Home Soul Jones Presents
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