Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


MATHIS, Johnny

(b 30 Sep. '35, San Francisco CA) Pop singer, son of a vaudeville singer. Sang in church choir but initially made his name in athletics as hurdles champion, basketball player and world-class high jumper. Sang at the Blackhawk, signed by manager Helen Noga (co-owner of club), impressed by his range and extraordinary breath control; contract with CBS followed; for a while he tried to maintain athletics and singing concurrently but had to choose between Olympic trials and recording sessions '56. George Avakian discovered him and prod. the first album, which flopped; Mitch Miller waited until he had the right songs: 'Wonderful Wonderful' went top 15 '57; first chart LP same year had same title, but the hit wasn't on it. 'It's Not For Me To Say' was no. 5, 'Chances Are' no. 1 and its other side 'The Twelfth Of Never' top ten, all '57: no one who was a teenager then will ever forget those hits, with his light baritone and unusual, fast vibrato lending a wistful, bittersweet quality to love songs. He had 40 Hot 100 entries '57--73; cover of Erroll Garner's 'Misty' was no. 12 '59, 'Gina' and 'What Will Mary Say' made top ten '62--3; duet hit 'Too Much, Too Little Too Late' with Deniece Williams was no. 1 '78; another with Dionne Warwick 'Friends In Love' was top 40 '82 (they each had a chart LP of that title '82--3). He never equalled '57 in singles charts, but remained extremely popular in concert and a phenomenal album seller, with 64 albums in top 200 '57--84. Top ten LPs (not counting annual appearance of Merry Christmas five years in a row) incl. his first eleven LPs '57--60: Johnny's Greatest Hits '58 (the first 'Greatest Hits' album, Miller's idea, stayed in the album chart for ten years) and Heavenly '59 (incl. 'Misty') were no. 1; two-disc Rhythms And Ballads Of Broadway '60 reached no. 6. Other best-selling LPs were Portrait Of Johnny '61 (no. 2), Johnny's Newest Hits '63. After a court case he parted with Noga '64, switched to Mercury (Tender Is The Night '64 was no. 13; The Shadow Of Your Smile '66 went top ten); he had a problem with pills but kicked it; he returned to Columbia '68 where he's been ever since. Two- disc Johnny Mathis' All-Time Greatest Hits '72 reached only no. 172 in Billboard but kept selling and went gold; duet albums with Williams You Light Up My Life (incl. no. 1 hit) and That's What Friends Are For reached top ten and top 20 respectively '78. Forty CDs available '97 incl. package of Warm ('57, with Percy Faith) and Open Fire, Two Guitars ('59, with Al Caiola and Tony Mottola); four-CD Personal Collection; I'll Buy You A Star '61 (with Nelson Riddle), Better Together -- The Duet Album (with Williams, Warwick, Angela Bofill, Patti Austin etc); Johnny '63 (with Don Costa) etc. He continued selling singles in the UK incl. disco-flavoured 'I'm Coming Home' and 'I'm Stone In Love With You' '73--5, both prod. by Thom Bell; Xmas song 'When A Child Is Born' '76 was his first UK no. 1. He had albums in the charts nearly every year for decades, a record not many will match; later albums were In A Sentimental Mood: Mathis Sings Ellington, How Do You Keep The Music Playing, 40th anniversary album All About Love.