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Profile: Johnny Mathis


Johnny Mathis

Johnny Mathis

source: mog.com


John Royce Mathis on September 30, 1935 in Gilmer, TX


Adult Contemporary, Easy Listening, Fifties Pop, R&B



Contributions to music:

  • The undisputed king of romantic Fifties "make-out" music
  • His 1958 album Johnny's Greatest Hits held the pre-Dark Side Of The Moon record for most weeks on the Billboard charts, staying there for over a decade
  • Brought operatic and classical training to the singing of pop standards
  • Along with Nat "King" Cole, provided a important non-threatening black icon for America during an oppressive time
  • Has sold nearly 200 million albums, including 60 gold-certified LPs
  • Has had Top 40 hits in four straight decades, one of only five artists to do so
  • An important icon for the gay community

Early years:

Johnny Mathis was very nearly an opera singer instead of a pop singer, but though classically trained as a teen at the insistence of his musician father, young Johnny's real passion was for track: in fact, he was considered one of the best high-jumpers in the country during his college years, but when he was discovered by Columbia singing a weekend gig at a local club, his phenomenal voice won out. Mathis actually ditched the 1956 Olympic trials to record his first album. Nevertheless, it was not a success, oriented as it was around jazz singing, which had fallen out of vogue.


Columbia A&R man Mitch Miller, however, he of the famous sing-alongs, thought Mathis was perfect for pop standards, however, and it was this change which resulted in the singer's first big hits in the late Fifties: "Chances Are," "Misty," "It's Not For Me To Say," "The Twelfth Of Never." Though rock had completely taken over the singles format by that time, Johnny was able to carve out an extraordinarily popular career in the new LP market, following in the leads of "adult" crooners like Frank Sinatra. Appearances on CBS' The Ed Sullivan Show, always on the lookout for clean-cut pop singers, made him a star.

Later years:

Mathis' career more or less followed the trajectory of the entire "Adult Contemporary" movement, moving from sophisticated pop to lounge fare to Seventies "soft-rock." In the late 70s, he engineered a comeback of sorts by recording several hit R&B ballad duets with rising female stars; however, that success was soon derailed when he admitted to being gay in a 1982 interview. His core audience seemed not to mind, however, and Mathis remains a solid concert draw to this day. He has continued to record for Columbia for over a half-century. In his spare time, he is known as an avid golfer and cook.

Other facts:

  • Attended George Washington High in San Francisco with future Miss America and actress Lee Meriwether
  • Johnny's Greatest Hits was the first LP to have the "greatest hits" title; it was assembled when Mathis failed to make a recording date for a new album
  • With Deniece Williams, performed the theme song for the 1980s hit NBC sitcom Family Ties
  • Has his own celebrity "Seniors" gold tournament and a track and field tournament at his alma mater, San Francisco State
  • Has performed three times for sitting US Presidents
  • Owns a US Post Office in Wisconsin which he leases to the government


  • GRAMMY Hall of Fame (1998, 2002, 2008)
  • GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award (2003)
  • Hollywood Walk of Fame (1501 Vine St.)

Recorded work:



"Chances Are" (1957)
"Gina" (1962)
"Too Much, Too Little, Too Late" with Deniece Williams (1978)


"Too Much, Too Little, Too Late" with Deniece Williams (1978)

Adult Contemporary:

"Too Much, Too Little, Too Late" with Deniece Williams (1978)



"It's Not For Me To Say" (1957)
"The Twelfth Of Never" (1957)
"What Will Mary Say" (1963)


"Misty" (1959)
"You're All I Need To Get By" (1978) with Deniece Williams

Adult Contemporary:

"Gina" (1962)
"What Will Mary Say" (1963)
"On A Clear Day (You Can See Forever)" (1966)
"Stardust" (1976)
"Friends In Love" (1982) with Dionne Warwick
"Simple" (1984)



Johnny's Greatest Hits (1958)
Heavenly (1959)
Give Me Your Love For Christmas (1969)



Wonderful! Wonderful! (1957)
Good Night, Dear Lord (1958)
Swing Softly (1958)
Warm (1958)
Merry Christmas (1959)
More Johnny's Greatest Hits (1959)
Open Fire, Two Guitars (1959)
Warm (1959)
Faithfully (1960)
Johnny's Mood (1960)
Merry Christmas (1960)
The Rhythms And Ballads Of Broadway (1960)
Portrait Of Johnny (1961)
Johnny's Newest Hits (1963)
Sounds Of Christmas (1963)
The Shadow Of Your Smile (1966)
You Light Up My Life (1978)


Those Were The Days (1969)
You Light Up My Life (1978)

Other important recordings: "Wild Is The Wind," "Wonderful! Wonderful!," "All The Time," "Call Me," "Come To Me," "No Love (But Your Love)," "Teacher, Teacher," "A Certain Smile (From A Certain Smile)," "Let's Love," "Small World," "Someone," "You Are Beautiful," "The Best Of Everything," "Maria," "My Love For You," "Starbright," "Wasn't The Summer Short?," "Marianna," "Maria," "Sweet Thursday," "Bye Bye Barbara," "The Little Drummer Boy," "Love Theme From "Romeo And Juliet" (A Time For Us)," "Life Is A Song Worth Singing," "Love Won't Let Me Wait," "Better Together"
Covered by: Ray Stevens, Donny Osmond, Nina Simone, Silver Sun, Ella Fitzgerald, Richard "Groove" Holmes, Cal Tjader, Stan Getz, Lloyd Price, Aretha Franklin, Gene Krupa, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Roger Williams, Dave Koz, Teresa Brewer, Wes Montgomery, Liberace, Boots Randolph, Liza Minelli
Appears in the movies: Lizzie (1957), A Certain Smile (1958)

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