Johnny Mathis Biography

Review The Artist (46)

Johnny Mathis-photo
The fourth of seven children, John Royce Mathis was born on September 30, 1935 in Gilmer, TX to Clem and Mildred Mathis. As a small boy, the family moved to Post Street in San Francisco. It was there that he learned an appreciation of music from his father who taught him his first song, “My Blue Heaven”. At age eight, his father purchased an old upright piano for $25. When he brought it home, it wouldn’t fit through the front door. So that evening, Johnny stayed up all night to watch his father dismantle the piano, get it into the small living room of their basement apartment and then reassemble it. Clem Mathis, who worked briefly as a musician back in Texas playing the piano and singing on stage, would continue to teach his son many songs and routines. Johnny had proven to be the most eager of the children to learn all about music. He sang in the church choir, school functions, community events, for visitors in their home as well as amateur shows in the San Francisco area.

Johnny was 13 years old when Clem took him to see Connie Cox, a Bay Area voice teacher, who agreed to take on the youngster in exchange for his doing odd jobs around her house. Johnny studied with Connie for six years learning vocal scales and exercises, voice production, classical and operatic skills.

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 on 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 1/2”. This is still on the College’s Top 15 list and was only two inches short of the Olympic record of the time. Just as when he was in high school, Johnny’s name was frequently mentioned in the sports sections of the Northern California 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 early September of 1955, Johnny landed a job singing weekends at Ann Dee’s 440 Club. After repeated attempts, Helen convinced George Avakian, then head of Jazz A&R at Columbia, 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 early 1956, Johnny was asked to attend the trials for the 1956 Olympic teams 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. Clem helped his son decide that his future and best interests were with the recording company. So, Johnny gave up his chance to become a member of the USA Olympic Team. He went to New York to record his first album in March of 1956.

The first album was a collection of jazz oriented renditions of popular standards entitled: Johnny Mathis: A New Sound In Popular Song. It included jazz musicians Gil Evans, John Lewis and Teo Macero and songs like “Angel Eyes”, “Easy to Love” and “Babalu”. The album 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 favored 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 for 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 spent 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.

According to record historian Joel Whitburn, 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 honored to make several appearances before various heads of state. Starting in June of 1973, he sang at a State Dinner held in honor of the President of Liberia. In 1978, Johnny sang for the British Royal Family at A Command Performance held at The London Palladium. He performed for President and Mrs. Reagan at the State Dinner held in honor of the Prime Minister of Japan in April of 1987. Four years later in April of 1991, he sang for President and Mrs. Bush in honor of the President of Nicaragua. Most recently, in May of 1994, Johnny sang for President and Mrs. Clinton (along with the other five living First Ladies) at a very special First Ladies Tribute.

Johnny has also been honored by entertainment heads of state. In June of 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 the song nominated in the “Best Song” category. He has received two Grammy nominations. The first was for “Misty” in 1960 in the category of Best Vocal Performance Single Record or Track Male. The second came in 1992 for In a Sentimental Mood/Mathis Sings Ellington in the category of Best Traditional Pop Performance.

1996 marked Johnny’s 40th Anniversary as a recording artist. He celebrated by releasing All About Love. He then released The Global Masters (songs from his three year contract at Mercury Records) in 1997, and 1998 saw the release of The Ultimate Hits and Because You Loved Me.

In his free time, Johnny loves to golf. He plays golf almost every day when he’s not traveling and 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’s other favorite avocation is cooking. He is a gourmet cook who cooks for himself and often others when he’s home or traveling. His mother taught him at an early age how to cook up a storm and do it well. He’s enjoyed doing so all his life.

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Play your songs every day i am your age and live in Australiaa | Reviewer: Beverley Gleeson | 12/26/13

I first heard your songs as a young mother in 1956,i have 5 children who have grown up with your songs and they know everyone of them,my daughter and i were very happy to go and see you performing at the Palais theatre in Melbourne years ago,it was the best concert i have ever been to,have a little great grandson now who dances when we put chances are on,My very favourite singer

Love, love, love you. | Reviewer: Sharon Martin | 11/22/13

I always thought I was the world's greatest Johnny Mathis fan. I was 17 when I heard you for the first time. Somebody put a dime into the juke box at work as I was entering a rickety, old elevator where I worked during the summer. I strained to hear your voice as the elevator cranked noisily up and out of the sound of your voice. I believe you were singing Wonderful, Wonderful and the year was 1957. At break time I rush down to the juke box and put all my dimes into the jukebox until I found that voice. I have been the World's Greatest Johnny Mathis Fan ever since. I can probably remember every word to every song that you have ever sung and have bought them all over the years. The only things that would quiet my newborn son were me singing "Goodnight my Love" or "Nobody Knows How much I Love You." Even though he is now 49, I can make him call me by simply putting those songs on and singing along with you. He gets an uncontrollable urge to call me. Bet you didn't know that you had that much power. My late mother and I used to go to the Greek Theater here in LA whenever you opened the season. I still have my stubs. They were all of $6.50 each. Imagine that. I could go on and on. Just wanted you to know that I appreciate that gentle, loving, tender way you present your music. I am now 73 and have lost many people who I have loved along the way but I still have Johnny Mathis to comfort me. Thank you for helping me through it all.

Greatest living singer | Reviewer: Moose Meadows | 11/18/13

The world does not take you for granted any longer. We love your family for encouraging you to become the worlds best singer and hope you can sing and influence people with your great work ethic forever. See ya at the Opera House in Galveston.

Appreciation of "the best voice ever" | Reviewer: Vanessa | 11/5/13

Dear Johnny you have been my favourite for over 50 years and your music has helped me through many difficult times! Thank you soo much and look forward to your concert in April 2014 long may you continue

The Smooth Voice. | Reviewer: John Madigan | 9/8/13

There have been many, many great singers over the years but Johnny Mathis is a one of a kind original. He has always been pure in voice and his songs have touched the hearts of millions of young lovers..Johnny and Elvis made the world of music a MountEverest that very few were ever able to get too ...God Bless you Johnny..

Johnny Mathis -What A Wonder You Are....Just Awsome | Reviewer: Bari Diane Bailey | 7/29/13

When I was six and seven years old My sister would listen to your albums every day...I would be right there with her listening...(she is 6 yrs older than I)...Loving to hear that beautiful smooth voice...she left home and I was a young teen of 13. Still loving your voice and now beginning to understand the the years went on I just loved you more and more...You are absolutely the best singer I have ever heard..You still sound so wonderful..I love watching your face when you put your whole heart and soul into your songs...Thank you for years of joy listening to you and keep singing,,May God continue to bless you with great health and your wonderful voice. Thank You Johnny Mathis, thank you

Fan forever | Reviewer: Sandra Kinge | 6/27/13

I first saw you at the Cinema when I was young, my mouth fell open when I saw and heard you in a Certain Smile, my Mother asked me if I was OK, and I said, I have just fallen in love, I have seen you a few times in the UK the last being for my 65th Birthday 2 years ago when my daughter took me to the O2 Arena, you were absolutely wonderful, can't wait to see you again, God Bless you.

Have been a fan of Johnny's forever and a day! | Reviewer: Nancy in San Diego | 6/20/13

You are a remarkable person and singer. May God keep you in
good health and prosperous. I have enjoyed seeing you in person, and hope to see you when you come to San Diego.

You must have had great parents because you have a great personality yourself!!!



Quality & Talent ! | Reviewer: Edison | 6/8/13

Johnny´s "Misty" and the songs in his album "My love for you" enchanted my life when I was young, and up today fills me with joy and expectancy of being able to see the beauty of life around... a Blue Gardenia will be always present, thanks to you, great Johnny !

54 years later, Wonderful, Wonderful | Reviewer: Lorraine | 5/18/13

Last night went to the Westbury Music Fair Long Island NY
I first met him 1959 at the Blue Angel Club in Long Island.
My wedding song was "Chances Are" and in "59 He was gracious enough to come over and sit at our table for a few minutes.
Tried last night to see him personally, but that was a no no
too big now.
Oh Well, Maybe so day perhaps the Twelfth of Never will meet again. Thanks

The Best Singer ever | Reviewer: Audrey | 2/20/13

My friend and I went to see Johnny way back in the early 70s in Aberdeen, Scotland. We were so far away from the stage,we could hardly see him, but as soon as he sang we were both in 7th heaven. I think we cried all the way through the concert. There will never be anyone to beat him. He is the best singer ever. Good Health Johnny and keep singi g as long as you can.

The San Francisco Years - Television was very new | Reviewer: Marietta Hoyt | 2/16/13

I have always enjoyed your singing. I remember seeing you often on one of the late night shows on television that was broadcast from San Francisco. The announcer on the show was a very funny comedian-type. You were about 17 years old. Good Memories.

Serenading voice | Reviewer: Bernice Wright | 2/15/13

Johnny Mathis I have loved your voice for over 50 years. My grandmother played your albums over and over again and we all loved listening to it, I would love to see and hear you in person again very soon. God Bess you Johnny.

THE VERY BEST............ | Reviewer: JACK ENGLISH | 2/14/13


I hope you always remain healthy and live forever | Reviewer: Ecko Jay | 2/13/13

I thank you, Mr Johnny Mathis for your songs that will live forever in millions of peoples' hearts. I thank you for making my life better. You are a wonderful person. I wish you all the very besy, always.

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