Today's Articles

People, Locations, Episodes

Mon, 09.30.1935

Johnny Mathis, Singer born

Johnny Mathis

This date marks the birth of Johnny Mathis in 1935. He is a Black singer.

Born John Royce Mathis in Gilmer, TX., he is the son of Clem Mathis and Mildred Boyd. He was raised in San Francisco and is among the last and most popular in a long line of traditional male vocalists who emerged before the rock-dominated 1960s.  Johnny Mathis studied with an opera coach as a young boy and was almost lured into the profession. His other inspirations were crossover jazz vocalists of the 1940s, Nat King Cole, Billy Eckstine, and Lena Horne. Mathis concentrated on romantic readings of jazz and pop standards.

Though he started with a series of singles-chart activities, Mathis later made it big in the album market, where a dozen of his LPs hit gold or platinum, and over 60 made the charts. While he focused on theme-oriented albums of show tunes and traditional favorites, he began incorporating soft rock by the 1970s and remained a popular concert attraction well into the 1990s.

Mathis was an exceptional high-school athlete in San Francisco but was wooed away from a college track scholarship and a potential spot on the Olympic squad by the chance to sing. He was signed to a management contract by club owner Helen Noga, who introduced the singer to George Avakian, jazz producer for Columbia Records. Avakian signed him and used orchestras conducted by Teo Macero, Gil Evans, and John Lewis to record Mathis' self-titled debut album in 1957. Despite the name, talent, and choice of standards, it was mostly ignored upon release.

Columbia A&R executive Mitch Miller decided the only recourse was switching Mathis to Miller's brand of pop balladry, and the formula worked like a charm; the LP Wonderful, Wonderful spawned a Top 20 hit later in 1957 with its title track, which was followed by the number five It's Not for Me to Say. His first number one, Chances Are.  From then on, Johnny Mathis concentrated strictly on lush ballads for adult-contemporary listeners.

Mathis moved away from show tunes and traditional pop into soft rock during the 1970s and found his second number-one single, Too Much, Too Little, Too Late, in 1978. Recorded as a duet with Denise Williams, the single prompted Mathis to begin trying duets with various partners (including Dionne Warwick, Natalie Cole, Gladys Knight, and Nana Mouskouri), though none of the singles enjoyed the original's success.

Mathis continued to release and sell albums throughout the 1990s, in his fifth decade of recording for Columbia, among them 1998's "Because You Loved Me: Songs of Diane Warren." Mathis has over 50 gold and platinum records and has the longest run for an album on the billboard pop charts, 480 weeks.

Mathis received the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003 from 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 recording field.  In 2013, Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters honored Mathis with the Art Gilmore Career Achievement Award, presented at a Studio City, CA luncheon.

In 2017, Mathis's alma mater San Francisco State University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree. Mathis attended San Francisco State for three semesters before withdrawing in 1956 to pursue his music career.

To Become a Musician or Singer


Johnny Mathis

ASCAP Biographical Dictionary
R. R. Bowker Co., Copyright 1980
ISBN 0-8351-1283-1

New Poem Each Day

Poetry Corner

They say you were a farmer, I never heard your voice, I heard you were the oldest child, Did you ever have a choice? Did you ever have a... OLLIE by Clementine Pigford
Read More