Johnny Mathis

Johnny Mathis
Johnny Mathis

Johnny Mathis in concert at the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez, California, on May 25, 2006.
Background information
Birth name John Royce Mathis
Born September 30, 1935 (1935-09-30) (age 76)
Origin Gilmer, Texas, United States
Genres Pop, soul, easy listening
Occupations Singer, songwriter, actor
Years active 1956–2011
Labels Columbia, Mercury

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.[1]


Early life

Mathis was born in Gilmer, Texas, the fourth of seven children of Clem Mathis and his wife, Mildred Boyd, an African-American.[2] 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."[3] Mathis started singing and dancing for visitors at home, and at school and church functions.[4]

When Mathis was thirteen, Connie Cox, a voice teacher, accepted him as her student in exchange for his work around her house.[5] He studied 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.[5]

Music career

He was spotted at a jam session by Helen Noga, former head cocktail waitress and co-owner of The Black Hawk Club at 200 Hyde Street in San Francisco and The DownBeat Club along with her husband John, and Guido Caccienti. 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 440 Club, 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.[4]

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.[6] 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 Robert Mersey. 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.[3] He also appeared at this time on ABC's The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom, as did other black entertainers Ella Fitzgerald and Pearl Bailey.

Mathis in 1960.

In summer of 1958, Mathis left San Francisco with the Nogas, who sold their interest in the Black Hawk club that year to Max Weiss, secretary-treasurer of San Francisco's avant-garde Fantasy Records, and moved to Beverly Hills where the Nogas purchased a home in which Mathis lived with them, their daughter Beverly, and their granddaughter, at 806 North Elm Drive at the corner of Elm and Sunset Boulevard, built in 1931 by the Max Factor family and later owned by Mabel C. Birdwell and Lillian and Ben Young, for about $99,500, which the Nogas later sold to singer Dionne Warwick in the summer of 1973 for around $359,500. 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 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. 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" memorably used during an alien visit in the 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and various numbers currently in the hit TV series Mad Men.

Although he is frequently described as a romantic singer, his discography includes jazz, traditional pop, Brazilian and Spanish music, Soul, R&B, soft rock, Broadway, Tin Pan Alley standards, some blues and country songs, and even a few disco tunes for his album Mathis Magic (1979). In 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 nine Christmas albums. Mathis has the distinction of having the longest stay of any recording artist on the Columbia Record 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 1981 release of his 25th Anniversary Album, a double LP, spent an unprecedented 491 consecutive weeks until 1990 (nine and a half years) on the Billboard top 100 album charts, earning him a place 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 released 200 singles and had 71 songs charted around the world. Recordings Historian Paul Gambacini confims Mathis recordings have sold well over 350 million worldwide and he is the 3rd most successful recording artist in the USA.

He has received three Grammy awards. In 1979, 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 Oscar ceremony. This was his second performance at the Academy Awards. 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 but from 2000 onwards has limited his concert engagements to fifty to sixty appearances per year. In 2006, his schedule included a UK tour that included his annual Scottish golf vacation and attendance at the 2006 Ryder Cup, two stints at his favourite Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas. 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 performing the classic "The Shadow of Your Smile" with saxophonist Dave Koz. Mathis returned to the UK 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". Also in 2007, he was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.

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

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 of 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 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,[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 rehab 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 Recorded Title Genre Label Year Inducted
1957 "It's Not for Me to Say" Traditional Pop (Single) Columbia 2008
1959 "Misty" Traditional Pop (Single) Columbia 2002
1957 "Chances Are" Traditional Pop (Single) Columbia 1998



Year Single Chart positions
1957 "Wonderful! Wonderful!" 14 - -
"It's Not For Me To Say" 5 - -
"Chances Are" 1 - 12
"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" 21 - - 27
"A Certain Smile" 14 - - 4
"Call Me" 21 - -
"Winter Wonderland" - - - 17
1959 "Let's Love" 44 - -
"You Are Beautiful" 60 - - 38
"Someone" 35 - - 6
"Small World" 20 - -
"You Are Everything To Me" 109 - -
"Misty" 12 - 10 12
"The Story of Our Love" 93 - -
"The Best of Everything" 62 - - 30
1960 "Starbright" 25 - - 47
"Maria" 78 - -
"My Love For You" 47 - - 9
"How To Handle a Woman" 64 - -
1961 "You Set My Heart To Music" 107 - -
"Jenny" 118 - -
"Wasn't the Summer Short?" 89 - -
1962 "Sweet Thursday" 99 - -
"Marianna" 86 - -
"Gina" 6 2 -
1963 "What Will Mary Say" 9 3 21 49
"Every Step of the Way" 30 10 -
"Sooner or Later" 84 - -
"Come Back" 61 - -
"Your Teenage Dreams" 68 19 -
"I'll Search My Heart" 90 - -
1964 "Bye Bye Barbara" 53 17 - -
"The Fall of Love" 120 - -
"Taste of Tears" 87 - -
"Listen Lonely Girl" 62 11 -
1965 "Take the Time" 104 32 -
"Sweetheart Tree" 108 21 -
"On a Clear Day You Can See Forever" 98 6 -
1966 "So Nice (Samba de Verao)" - 17 -
1967 "Two Tickets and a Candy Heart" - 38 - -
"Don't Talk To Me" - 21 - -
"Misty Roses" - 40 - -
1968 "Venus" 111 23 -
"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)" 96 8 -
"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" 103 16 - -
"Soul and Inspiration/For Once In My Life" - 37 - -
1973 "Take Good Care of Her" - 40 - -
"Show and Tell" - 36 - -
"I'm Coming Home" 75 1 92 -
"Life Is a Song Worth Singing" 54 8 65
1974 "Sweet Child" - 35 - -
1975 "Sail On White Moon" - 39 - -
"I'm Stone In Love With You" - 16 - 10
"Stardust" - 4 - -
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 - -
"Arianne" - 24 - -
1978 "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late" ** 1 1 1 3
"You're All I Need To Get By" ** 47 16 10 45
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" ## 38 5 22
1984 "Love Won't Let Me Wait" ** 106 14 32
"Simple" 81 6 43
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


  • Johnny Mathis Columbia CL-887 1956
  • Wonderful, Wonderful Columbia CL-1028 (Gold) 1957
  • Warm Columbia CL-1078/CS-8039 (Gold) 1957
  • Good Night, Dear Lord Columbia 1958
  • Johnny's Greatest Hits Columbia CL-1133 (Multi-Platinum) 1958
  • Swing Softly Columbia CL-1165/CS-8023 (Gold), #10 UK Pop Albums 1958
  • Merry Christmas Columbia CL-1195/CS-8021 (Multi-Platinum) 1958
  • Open Fire, Two Guitars Columbia CL-1270/CS-8056 (Gold) 1959
  • More Johnny's Greatest Hits Columbia CL-1344/CS-8150 (Gold) 1959
  • Heavenly Columbia CL-1354/CS-8152 (Multi-Platinum) 1959
  • Faithfully Columbia CS-8219 (Gold) 1959
  • The Rhythms and Ballads of Broadway Columbia #6 UK Pop Albums 1960
  • Johnny's Mood Columbia 1960
  • I'll Buy You A Star #18 UK Pop Albums Columbia 1961
  • Portrait Of Johnny Columbia 1961
  • Live It Up! Columbia 1962
  • Rapture Columbia 1962
  • Johnny's Newest Hits Columbia 1963
  • Johnny Columbia 1963
  • Romantically Columbia CS 8898, CL 2098 1963
  • Sounds of Christmas Mercury 1963
  • I'll Search My Heart and Other Great Hits Columbia CS-8943
  • The Great Years Columbia 1964
  • Tender Is The Night Mercury 1964
  • The Wonderful World of Make Believe Mercury 1964
  • This Is Love Mercury MG 20942/SR 60942 1964
  • Olé Mercury 1965
  • Love Is Everything Mercury 1965
  • The Sweetheart Tree Mercury SR 61041/MG 21041 1965
  • The Shadow of Your Smile Mercury 1966
  • So Nice Mercury 1966
  • Johnny Mathis Sings Mercury SR-61107 1967
  • Up, Up And Away Columbia 1967
  • Love is Blue Columbia CS-9637 1968
  • Those Were The Days Columbia CS 9705 1968
  • People Columbia 1969
  • The Impossible Dream Columbia 1969
  • Love Theme From "Romeo And Juliet" (A Time For Us) Columbia 1969
  • Give Me Your Love For Christmas Columbia 1969
  • Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head #23 UK Pop Albums 1970
  • Close To You Columbia 1970
  • Sings the Music of Bacharach & Kaempfert 1970
  • Love Story #27 UK Pop Albums 1971
  • You've Got A Friend Columbia 1971
  • In Person - Recorded Live At Las Vegas Columbia 1972
  • The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face #40 UK Pop Albums 1972
  • Johnny Mathis' All-Time Greatest Hits 1972
  • Song Sung Blue 1972
  • This Guy's In Love With You Harmony 1972
  • Christmas With Johnny Mathis Columbia 1972
  • Me And Mrs. Jones 1973
  • Killing Me Softly 1973
  • I'm Coming Home Columbia #18 UK Pop Albums 1973
  • The Heart Of A Woman #39 UK Pop Albums 1974
  • What'll I Do 1974
  • When Will I See You Again #13 UK Pop Albums 1975
  • Feelings 1975 (Platinum)
  • Heavenly And Faithfully Columbia 1975
  • I Only Have Eyes For You #14 UK Pop Albums 1976
  • Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me 1977
  • The Johnny Mathis Collection" #1 UK Pop Albums 1977
  • Sweet Surrender" Pop Albums 1977
  • Mathis Is 1977
  • Johnny's Greatest Hits 1977
  • You Light Up My Life (Platinum), #3 UK Pop Albums 1978
  • That's What Friends Are For #16 UK Pop Albums 1978
  • The Best Days Of My Life#38 UK Pop Albums 1979
  • Mathis Magic #59 UK Pop Albums 1979
  • Tears and Laughter #1 UK Pop Albums 1980
  • All For You #20 UK Pop Albums 1980
  • Different Kinda Different 1980
  • The Best Of Johnny Mathis (1975–1980) 1980
  • Celebration #9 UK Pop Albums 1981
  • The First 25 Years: Silver Anniversary Album 1981
  • Friends In Love #34 UK Pop Albums 1982
  • Unforgettable #5 UK Pop Albums 1983
  • A Special Part Of Me #45 UK Pop Albums 1984
  • For Christmas 1984
  • Johnny Mathis Live 1985
  • Right From the Heart 1985
  • Hollywood Musicals #46 UK Pop Albums 1986
  • Christmas Eve With Johnny Mathis 1986
  • Once In A While 1988
  • Love Songs 1988
  • In the Still Of the Night 1989
  • In A Sentimental Mood: Mathis Sings Ellington 1990
  • Better Together: The Duet Album 1991
  • How Do You Keep the Music Playing 1993
  • The Hits of Johnny Mathis 1995
  • All About Love 1996
  • Because You Loved Me: Songs of Diane Warren 1998
  • Mathis On Broadway 2000
  • The Christmas Album 2002
  • Isn't It Romantic: The Standards Album 2005
  • The Very Best Of Johnny Mathis #6 UK Pop Albums 2006
  • A Night To Remember #29 UK Pop Albums 2008
  • Let It Be Me: Mathis in Nashville Release September 2010

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" 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).


  • Mathis, Johnny; Brash, Peter; Birch, Marge (1982). Cooking for You Alone. Pasadena, CA: Tech. Educ. Co.. ISBN 0939402009. 


  1. ^ Bush, John. "Johnny Mathis: Biography". All Media Guide. Retrieved 2009-03-31. 
  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"

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