This has been a most rewarding album to produce. There have been just so many albums and so many wonderful songs to choose, from which to best remember this great singer. Such a unique voice and easy relaxed style endears him to everyone. Johnny Mathis really is a romantic whose ballads are all full of true love. The name alone is synonymous with romance. Being called the Velvet Voice, few singers have been as successful at capturing the essence of love in song. He is one of the last in a long line of traditional male vocalists who emerged before the 1960’s. Mathis concentrated on romantic jazz and pop standards for the adult contemporary audience, through to the 1980’s. He became popular as an album artist with several dozen of his albums achieving gold or platinum status, and over 60 making the Billboard charts. He has had 5 of his albums on the Billboard charts simultaneously, an achievement equalled by only two other singers, Frank Sinatra and Barry Manilow. Mathis recorded over 130 albums and sold more than 180 million records worldwide. His voice, like those of Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra and Russ Columbo, and his delivery, are unmistakeably his.
John Royce Mathis was born on 30 September 1935 in Gilmer, Texas. He was the fourth of seven children and is of both African- American and Caucasian ancestry. He learned his appreciation of music from his father who worked briefly as a musician playing the piano and singing on stage. His father taught him many songs and routines and Johnny sang in the church choir, school functions, community events, for visitors in their home as well as amateur shows in the San Francisco area where the family moved when Johnny was a young boy. From the age of 13, Johnny studied with Connie Cox, a voice teacher, for six years learning vocal scales and exercises, voice production, classical and operatic skills. It was this coaching that allowed him his trademark emphasis on long sustained notes and heavy vibrato. At George Washington High School, Johnny was known not only for his singing ability but his athleticism as well. He became a star athlete on the track and field team as a high jumper and hurdler and played in the basketball team. In 1954, Johnny enrolled at San Francisco State College with the intention of being an English and Physical Education teacher. While there, Johnny set a high jump record of 6’-5 ½’’. This is still on the college’s top 15 list and was only two inches short of the Olympic record at the time. Just as when he was in high school, Johnny’s name was frequently mentioned in the sports sections of the Northern Carolina newspapers. He was often referred to as “the best all-around athlete to come out of the San Francisco Bay Area”. A fellow student, whose sextet was working at the Black Hawk nightclub, brought Johnny in for a Sunday afternoon jam session. It was at the Black Hawk that Helen Noga, co-owner of the club, first heard him sing. She decided that she wanted to manage his career. In September 1955, Johnny landed a job singing weekends at Ann Dee’s 440 club. After repeated attempts, Helen convinced George Avakian, then jazz producer at Columbia Records, to see him. Avakian came to the club, heard Johnny sing and sent the now famous telegram to his record company: “Have found phenomenal 19 year old boy who could go all the way. Send blank contracts.” Avakian left for New York after telling Johnny that he would eventually send for him. Johnny continued his studies at San Francisco State and gained additional fame as a high jumper. In 1956, Johnny was asked to attend the trials for the 1956 Olympic team that would travel to Melbourne, Australia that summer. At the same time, Columbia Records requested that Johnny come to New York to start arrangements for his first recording session. With his father’s advice, Mathis opted for a recording career and the rest is history. So, Johnny gave up his chance to become a member of the USA Olympic Team and went to New York to record his first album in March of 1956.
His first album, Johnny Mathis: A New Sound in Popular Song, was a jazz album that enjoyed only moderate success because jazz vocal albums were not good sellers. Nevertheless, Johnny remained in New York and landed bookings at some of the leading nightclubs such as the Village Vanguard, The Blue Angel and Basin Street East. Soon, Columbia placed Johnny under the supervision of producer Mitch Miller. Mitch favoured using Johnny’s voice to sing soft, romantic ballads. At his second recording session, in the fall of 1956, Johnny recorded two singles. These songs were to become among his most popular all-time greatest hits: “Wonderful, Wonderful” and “It’s Not For Me To Say”. Subsequently, MGM studios signed Johnny to sing “It’s Not For Me To Say” in the film Lizzie. He played a tavern piano bar singer. In 1958, Johnny made another motion picture appearance. This time it was in 20th Century Fox in A Certain Smile. In this movie, he sang the title song playing himself in an elegant nightclub scene. Since then, Johnny’s voice has been used in countless Hollywood movies for theme songs, background music and to enhance a particular setting or segment. “Wonderful, Wonderful” and “It’s Not For Me To Say” reached their peaks on the Billboard pop chart in July of 1957. These successes were followed by the monumental single “Chances Are” which became Johnny’s first #1 hit. In June of 1957, Johnny appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show where he was introduced to the record buying public and became a national celebrity and household name. Columbia Records continued to release albums of Johnny singing beautiful and romantic ballads, classic standards and the best songs from Broadway musicals. These albums, like the singles, became immediate successes with sales in the millions. It was not uncommon for Johnny to have as many as four albums on the Billboard Top Albums chart at the same time. In late 1959, Johnny recorded another song that became synonymous with the name of Johnny Mathis, the Erroll Garner composition, “Misty”. Johnny’s accomplishments are numerous and varied. He holds many records and has set many precedents in the music industry. In 1958, two years after being signed by Columbia Records, Johnny’s Greatest Hits was released. It began a “Greatest Hits” tradition copied by every record company since then. Johnny’s Greatest Hits went on to become one of the most popular albums of all time and spend an unprecedented 490 continuous weeks (almost ten years) on the Billboard Top Albums chart. This record has been noted in the Guinness Book of World Records and was not broken until the 1980s by Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon”. Johnny is one of only five recording artists to have Top 40 Hits spanning each of the four decades since 1955. Amazingly, his second #1 Hit Single, “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late” (recorded with Deniece Williams), came almost 21 years after his very first #1 Hit Single, “Chances Are”. Johnny has been honoured to make several appearances before various heads of state and in 1972, he was awarded his own star on the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame. He has participated in the Academy Awards presentation many times to sing a song nominated in the “Best Song” category. Johnny has received three Grammy nominations. The first was for “Misty” in 1960 in the category of Best Male Vocal Performance – Single Record or Track. The second was in 1992 for “In a Sentimental Mood/Mathis Sings Ellington” in the category of Best Traditional Pop Performance. The most recent was in 2006 for “Isn’t It Romantic”, in the category of Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album. Johnny has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame on two occasions. This is a special Grammy award to honour recordings that are at least twenty-five years old and that have ‘qualitative or historical significance’. In 1998, he made the famous Hall’s list with “Chances Are”.In 2002 he made the list again with “Misty”. Most impressive of all is his 2003 Lifetime Achievement Award by the Academy of Recording Artists and Sciences. This Special Merit Award is presented to performers who have made creative contributions of outstanding artist significance to the field of recording. In 2004 he sang “Over the Rainbow” with Ray Charles on Mr Charles’ “Genius Loves Company”. Johnny was very honoured that Mr Charles requested the song to be played at his memorial service. Mathis continues to perform but from 2000 onwards has limited his concert engagements to fifty to sixty appearances per year. He still records and his 2005 album “Isn’t It Romantic: The Standards Album” has been enthusiastically received by critics and music buyers.
Johnny has never been married. He has never abandoned his enthusiasm for sports and today is an avid golfer who has achieved six holesin- one. He has sung at many golf banquets such as the Ryder Cup. In 1985 and 1986, Johnny hosted his own golf tournament, The Johnny Mathis Seniors PGA Classic, which was held in Los Angeles. Johnny has also hosted a charity golf tournament, The Shell/ Johnny Mathis Golf Classic, which was held in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He also hosts the annual Johnny Mathis Invitational Track and Field Meet which has continued at San Francisco State College since it started in 1982. Johnny’s other favourite avocation is cooking, which his mother taught him from an early age. He is a gourmet cook, cooking for himself and often others when at home or travelling. In 1982 he published a cookbook, cooking for you alone.