Johnny Mathis

  • Crooner born in 1935 from Gilmer Texas. During his youth, he grew up in San Francisco.
  • His father was a vaudeville worker, and he bought an upright piano for $25 when he saw that his son had musical talent. At 13 years old, Johnny began lessons from a local vocal teacher. He studied with her for 6 years, including training in opera. In high school, he sang in a band with Merl Saunders (who later would collaborate with dozens of artists, including Jerry Garcia/Grateful Dead, Tom Fogerty, Taj Mahal, and Bonnie Raitt).
  • In 1955, while singing at a jam session at a jazz club, the club’s owner became interested in his talent. She became his manager, and she got him a job singing at another San Francisco club. She persuaded a talent scout from a national record label to listen to him, and the scout immediately contacted the company, staying that he had “found a 19 year old boy that could go all the way.” Mathis was a star athlete and had to decide whether to go to the Olympic trials to try to qualify for the Melbourne Olympics as a high jumper, or to start a recording career. He opted to record, and his debut jazz album, Johnny Mathis: A New Sound in Popular Song, was released in 1956.
  • He appeared in 2 films with singing roles, and performed on The Ed Sullivan Show, which greatly increased his exposure. His first album sold slowly, but his second album defined the sound that Mathis would become famous for – soft ballads, with Mathis’ vocals paired with orchestral arrangements. In 1957, his singles began to chart – Wonderful! Wonderful! reached #14, It’s Not For Me To Say peaked at #5, and Chances Are became his first #1 song. It’s Not For Me To Say and Chances Are have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. All 3 songs were included in a 1958 compilation album, Johnny’s Greatest Hits, which remained on the Billboard 200 album chart for 490 consecutive weeks – the longest continuous run of any album until Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon in 1983.
  • Mathis continued to record extensively – he released studio albums nearly every year from 1959 to 2017. To date, he has released 73 studio albums, 3 live albums, and 100 singles. Other songs that charted in the top 10 were Gina, What Will My Mary Say, and his 1978 comeback #1 hit Too Much, Too Little, Too Late (sung as a duet with Deniece Williams). Another single that became a Mathis signature song was Misty – his third song to be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. While Mathis did not have a large number of hit singles, he was very successful with his albums, with 18 Gold albums and 6 platinum albums. His Christmas albums were particularly popular – 1958’s Merry Christmas is his biggest selling album, certified 5x platinum. He had a least one song chart on a Billboard chart every decade from the 50s to the 10s – that is 7 decades!
  • In 2003, Mathis was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award. He’s been nominated for 5 other Grammy awards during his career.
  • Mathis continues to perform today, typically 50 or so concerts a year, at 83 years old. Iconic voice! Here’s a clip of Mathis performing Chances Are and Wonderful Wonderful in 1982.

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