Welcome to the first part of the Johnny Mathis series with a brief look at his early years and some of his awards and accolades.. His voice had a unique tone that is instantly recognisable and his songs certainly played a big role in my teen years and romantic dalliances..
I will hand over to William Price King now to introduce you to the early years of this enduring musical artist.
Johnny Mathis was born in 1935 in Gilmer in East Texas to Clement and Mildred Mathis. Interestingly for Eagles fans… Don Henley was also born in Gilmer. However, the family moved to San Francisco where his father continued to work in Vaudeville. His background exposed all the children in the family to music and spotting an early talent in Johnny, he bought him an old upright piano. The story is that it would not fit through the door so Clement dismantled it and then reassembled in their living room.
At first Johnny followed his father’s influence with songs and routines that were performed in front of family and friends. The first song that he mastered was “My Blue Heaven” and if you listen to this version by Fats Waller you can understand how it would have been a crowd pleaser for Johnny”s audiences.
Johnny Mathis made his first public appearances at church functions and he had this to say about the beginning of his career. “As a child all I knew was that people kept asking me to sing and because I liked to please I would sing. It wasn’t until my dad told me that my singing made him happy that I began to think my voice might be good.”
At age 13 he was lucky enough to be accepted by voice teacher Connie Cox, in exchange for chores, and he studied with her until he was 19 years old. His training which included voice production, classical and operatic singing and gave him an important advantage over many popular singers of the day. His inspirations evolved from the Vaudeville routines to the smoother crossover jazz vocalists of the 1940s such as Nat King Cole and Lena Horne. The first band that Johnny Mathis performed with was at high school under the leadership of Merl Saunders, who would himself go on to enjoy a long and successful career working with musicians such as Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead) and Tom Fogerty.
Music was Johnny’s only talent and he excelled at athletics, particularly as a high jumper, hurdler and on the basketball team. He went to San Francisco State University on an athletic scholarship with the aim of becoming either a Physical Education or English Teacher. However, he began playing at a small local bar, The International Settlement, where he met Maya Angelou and Joan Weldon. This led to a jam session at the Black Hawk Club where Johnny attracted the attention of one of the club’s founders, Helen Noga, who became his music manager.
At age 20, Johnny Mathis was singing at the weekends at Ann Dee’s 440 Club, and on hearing that George Avakian, head of Popular Music A&R at Columbia Records, was vacationing nearby, Helen Noga persuaded him to come and listen to Johnny play. After hearing Mathis sing, Avakian sent his record company a telegram stating: “Have found phenomenal 19-year-old boy who could go all the way. Send blank contracts.” Mathis signed with Columbia but continued his studies at San Francisco State while plans were being made in New York for his debut album.
Back at San Francisco State, Mathis, a gifted athlete, set a high jump record of 6 feet, 5½ inches, only two inches shy of the Olympic record at the time. In 1956 he was asked to try out for the U.S. Olympic Team that would travel to Melbourne, Australia, that November. Mathis had to decide whether to go to the Olympic trials or to keep his appointment in New York City to make his first recordings. On his father’s advice, Mathis opted to embark on a professional singing career.
Over his long career Johnny Mathis has been asked to perform for many heads of state, including the President of Liberia, the British Royal Family and for President and Mrs. Reagan at a state dinner in honor of the Prime Minister of Japan. This was followed by performances for Presidents Bush and Clinton.
Apart from a four year break with Mercury records, Johnny Mathis has been with Columbia Records throughout his career, joining Bob Dylan and Barbra Streisand in that respect.
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 has released 200 singles and had 71 songs charted around the world. He is one of only five artistes who have had hits in every decade of their career.
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.” Longtime “Tonight Show” host Johnny Carson said, “Johnny Mathis is the best ballad singer in the world.” He appeared on the show with Carson’s successor, Jay Leno, on March 29, 2007, to sing his song “The Shadow of Your Smile” with the saxophonist Dave Koz. 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.”
Johnny Mathis has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for three separate recordings – in 1998 for “Chances Are”, in 2002 for “Misty”, and in 2008 for “It’s Not for Me to Say.”
On June 21, 2014, Mathis was inducted into the Great American Songbook Hall Of Fame along with Linda Ronstadt, Shirley Jones, and Nat King Cole (his daughter Natalie Cole accepting the award on his behalf). The awards were presented by the Center for the Performing Arts artistic director Michael Feinstein. Defined on their website, “Conceived as an enduring testament to the Great American Songbook, the Hall of Fame honors performers and composers responsible for creating America’s soundtrack.”
In 1978 his hit duet with Jane Olivor “The Last Time I Felt Like This” from the film Same Time, Next Year was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. He was awarded the Society of Singers Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006 and he was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.
In 2017, having dropped out of San Francisco State University over 60 years earlier to pursue his musical career, Johnny Mathis was awarded and honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from the university.
Johnny Mathis 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.
Buy the music of Johnny Mathis: https://www.amazon.com/Johnny-Mathis/e/B000APEDOO
Find out more about Johnny Mathis and current news: http://www.johnnymathis.com/news.html
Additional sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Mathis
My thanks to William Price King for another amazing post.
William Price King is an American jazz singer, crooner, and composer.
His interest in music began at an early age when he studied piano and clarinet in high school. At Morehouse College in Atlanta where he grew up, he sang in the Glee Club and studied classical music. After graduation he went off to the Yale School of Music where he earned a Masters degree. From there he journeyed to New York where he created a jazz trio ‘Au Naturel’ which performed in some of the hottest venues in Manhattan including gigs on Broadway and the famous ‘Rainbow Room.’ These gigs opened doors for performances in Montreal and a European tour.
While touring Europe he met a lovely French lady, Jeanne Maïstre, who, a year later became his wife. King left the group ‘Au Naturel’ and settled in the south of France where he started a new life on the French Riviera, opening his own music school – the “Price King Ecole Internationale de Chant.” He has had the pleasure over the years of seeing many of his students excel as singers on a professional level, and some going on to become national celebrities. He continues to coach young singers today, in his spare time.
His debut jazz album was entitled “Home,” and was a collection of contemporary compositions he composed, with lyrics written by his wife Jeanne King. His second album was a Duo (Voice and Guitar) with Eric Sempé on the guitar. This album included original songs as well as well known standards from contemporary jazz and pop artists. The “King-Sempé” duo toured France and thrilled audiences for more than three years before going their separate ways. King has formed a new duo called “Clear Cut,” and is now exploring new ideas, in a smooth jazz/soul/folk direction.
In addition to singing and composing, King has been collaborating with author Sally Cronin over the past few years on her blog “Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life,” with the series “A Man And His Music – Jazz, Contemporary, Classical, and Legends” and now, the “William Price King Music Column.” Working with author Sally Cronin has been an exhilarating experience in many ways and has brought a new dimension to King’s creative life. King has also created a micro blog, “Improvisation,” which features and introduces mostly jazz artists from across the jazz spectrum who have made considerable contributions in the world of jazz; and also artwork from painters who have made their mark in the world of art. This micro blog can be found on Tumblr.
His vocal mentors are two of the greatest giants in jazz, Nat King Cole and Mel Tormé. King has a distinctive wide-ranging voice which displays a remarkable technical facility and emotional depth.
William Price King on Tumblr – IMPROVISATION – https://williampriceking.tumblr.com
Connect with William
Website – http://www.williampriceking.com/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/WilliamPriceKing
Twitter – https://twitter.com/wpkofficial
Regular Venue – http://cave-wilson.com/
You can find previous artists featured in these two links
Jazz, Classical and Contemporary: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/william-price-king-a-man-and-his-music-jazz-contemporary-classical-and-legends/
And the Music Column: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/william-price-king-music-column/
See you next week where William introduces us to the early hits for Johnny Mathis