One of the last in a long line of traditional male vocalists who emerged before the 1960s, Mathis concentrated on romantic jazz and pop standards for the adult contemporary audience through to the 1980s. Starting his career with a standard flurry of singles, Mathis was far more popular as an album artist, with several dozen of his albums receiving gold and platinum status and seventy-three making the Billboard charts to date. Mathis has sold more than 350 million records and albums.
At thirteen, Mathis was taken to Connie Cox, a San Francisco Bay Area voice teacher, who accepted him as a student in exchange for work he would do around her house. He studied with Cox for six years, learning vocal scales and exercises, voice production, classical and operatic skills. He remains one of the few popular singers who has received years of professional voice training that included opera.
At George Washington High School, Mathis was well known not only for his singing abilities, but also as a star athlete. On the track and field team, he was a high jumper and hurdler, and on the basketball team, he earned four athletic letters. In 1954, Mathis enrolled at San Francisco State University on a scholarship with the intention of becoming an English and physical education teacher. Mathis remains an important part of San Francisco State University's sports history—in 1954 he broke future basketball great Bill Russell's high jump record by jumping 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m).
Mathis now had to decide whether to go to the Olympic tryouts, to which he had been invited, 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 and the rest is history. He has never completely 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 USA and the United Kingdom. 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 College since it started in 1982.
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. 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 and this helped to seal his stardom. Critics called him the velvet voice.
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 Phille 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. In 1964, there was a severe downturn in sales for many artists due to The Beatles and the British invasion of the early 1960s. However, Mathis still turned out two of his biggest solo hits in the years 1962 and 1963, with "Gina" (#6) and "What Will Mary Say" (#9) charting in each year, respectively. 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, 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 three-year break with Mercury Records in the mid-1960s, he has been with Columbia Records throughout his recording career.
Although he is frequently described as a romantic singer, his vast 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. Mathis also remains highly associated with holiday music, having recorded nine Christmas albums. According to British recordings chart historian and Guinness Book of Records Music writer Paul Gambaccini, Mathis has recorded over 110 albums and sold more than 350 million records worldwide. His Merry Christmas album of 1958 has made the American charts almost every year since its release and is now approaching 6 million unit sales. this makes Mathis the third most successful male recording artist ever. He was given the title The Voice Of Romance. 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. Johnny's Greatest Hits spent an unprecedented 490 consecutive weeks (nine and a half years) on the Billboard album chart, a feat earning him a place in the Guinness Book of World Records and not broken until the 1980s by Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon. 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. He is the third largest album seller and Frank Sinatra's main rival in sales from 1957 to 1987. Mathis is one of only a few recording artists whose career has spanned six decades and selling over 350 million records worldwide.
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 televised to over two billion people around the world. This was his second performance at the Academy Awards - another historic achievement. 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 opening 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, he was scheduled for a UK tour that includes his annual Scottish Golf vacation and attendance at the 2006 Ryder Cup, two stints at his favourite Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas. He still records occasionally and his latest album Isn't It Romantic: The Standards Album (2004) has been enthusiastically received by critics and music buyers. Tonight Show host Johnny Carson, who heard over 2000 singers on his show, said: "Johnny Mathis is the best ballad singer in the world." He appeared on the NBC Tonight Show with Jay Leno as a guest on March 29, 2007 performing the classic "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 CD "A Night to Remember".
Mathis enjoys cooking, which he learned from his mother. He likes family gatherings with his six brothers and sisters and their families. In 1982 he published a cookbook, Cooking for You Alone.
He is an avid golfer, and in his earlier years he excelled at other sports including high jumping, tennis, and basketball.
Among the many organizations that have benefited from his generosity through the years are the American Cancer Society, the March of Dimes, YWCA, YMCA, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and NAACP.
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.
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.
|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|
Each of the above were issued on the Columbia Records label with the exception of the duet with Dionne Warwick, "Friends In Love," which was released on Warwick's label, Arista Records.
Mathis has had much more success as an album artist. His albums achieved success in part due to their reputation as an accompaniment to lovemaking. Some of his celebrated early albums include: