Johnny Mathis
Mathis in concert at the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez, California, in 2006
Mathis in concert at the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez, California, in 2006
Background information
Birth nameJohn Royce Mathis
Born (1935-09-30) September 30, 1935 (age 88)
Gilmer, Texas, U.S.
OriginSan Francisco, California, U.S
Years active1956–present

John Royce Mathis (born September 30, 1935) is an American singer of popular music. Starting his career with singles of standard music, Mathis became highly popular as an album artist, with several of his albums achieving gold or platinum status and 73 making the Billboard charts. Mathis has received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for three recordings.

Mathis is the third best-selling artist of the 20th century, selling 360 million records worldwide.[2][3] Although frequently described as a romantic singer, his discography includes traditional pop, Latin American, soul, rhythm and blues, show tunes, Tin Pan Alley, soft rock, blues, country music, and even a few disco songs for his album Mathis Magic in 1979. Mathis has also recorded seven albums of Christmas music. In a 1968 interview, he cited Lena Horne, Nat King Cole, and Bing Crosby among his musical influences.[4]

Early life and education

Mathis was born in Gilmer, Texas, on September 30, 1935,[5] the fourth of seven children of Clem Mathis and Mildred Boyd, both domestic cooks.[6][7] Mathis is African-American[8] and has stated that he has Native American ancestry on his mother's side.[9] The family moved to San Francisco when Mathis was five,[10] settling on 32nd Avenue in the Richmond District, where Mathis grew up.

Mathis' father worked in vaudeville as a singer and pianist, and on realizing his son's talent, bought an old upright piano for $25 (US$433 in 2023 dollars[11]) and encouraged his music. Mathis began learning songs and routines from his father; his parents also ran his fan club. Mathis' first song was "My Blue Heaven".[12] He started singing and dancing for visitors at home, at school, and at church functions.[13]

When Mathis was 13, voice teacher Connie Cox accepted him as her student in exchange for housework.[14] Mathis studied with Cox for six years, learning vocal scales and exercises, voice production, classical and operatic singing. The first band Mathis sang with was formed by his high school friend, Merl Saunders. Mathis eulogized Saunders at his funeral in 2008, thanking him for that first chance at being a singer.

Mathis was a star athlete at George Washington High School in San Francisco. He was a high jumper, hurdler, and basketball player. In 1954, Mathis enrolled at San Francisco State College on an athletic scholarship, competing in both basketball and track, and intending to become a physical education teacher.[14][15] While there, he set a high jump record of 1.97 m (6 ft 5+12 in), still one of the college's top jump heights and only 7 cm (3 in) short of the 1952 Olympic record of 2.04 m (6 ft 8+12 in). Mathis and future NBA star Bill Russell were featured in a 1954 sports section article of the San Francisco Chronicle demonstrating their high-jumping skills, as at the time Russell was No. 1 and Mathis was No. 2 in the City of San Francisco.[16]


Early years

While singing at a Sunday afternoon jam session with a friend's jazz sextet at the Black Hawk Club in San Francisco, Mathis attracted the attention of the club's co-founder, Helen Noga. She became his music manager and found Mathis a job singing weekends at Ann Dee's 440 Club. In September 1955, she learned that George Avakian, head of Popular Music A&R at Columbia Records, was on vacation near San Francisco. After repeated calls, Noga finally persuaded Avakian to come hear Mathis at the 440 Club. 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."[13]

At San Francisco State, Mathis had become noteworthy as a high jumper, and in 1956, he was asked to try out for the U.S. Olympic Team that would travel to Melbourne that November.[5] On his father's advice, Mathis opted to embark on a professional singing career.

Mathis' first record album, Johnny Mathis: A New Sound In Popular Song, was a slow-selling jazz album, but Mathis stayed in New York City to sing in nightclubs. His second album was produced by Columbia Records vice-president and record producer Mitch Miller, who helped to define the Mathis sound. Miller preferred that Mathis sing soft, romantic ballads, pairing him with conductor and music arranger Ray Conniff, and later, Ray Ellis, Glenn Osser, and Robert Mersey. In late 1956, Mathis recorded two of his most popular songs: "Wonderful! Wonderful!" and "It's Not for Me to Say".[4] Also that year, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer signed him up to sing the latter song in the movie Lizzie (1957).

Showbiz millionaire

In June 1957, Mathis appeared on the popular TV program The Ed Sullivan Show, which helped increase his popularity. Later that year, Mathis released his second single to sell one million copies, "Chances Are."[17] In November 1957, Mathis released "Wild Is the Wind", which featured in the film of the same name and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. He performed the song at the ceremony in March 1958.

Mathis in 1960

The week before his appearance at the Academy Awards, Johnny's Greatest Hits was released. The album spent an unprecedented 490 consecutive weeks (nearly nine-and-a-half years) on the Billboard top 200 album charts,[18] including three weeks at number one. It held the record for the most weeks on the top Billboard 200 albums in the US for 15 years, until Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon (March 1973) reached 491 weeks in October 1983.[19]

Later in 1958, Mathis made his second film appearance for 20th Century Fox, singing the song "A Certain Smile" in the film of that title. The song was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. By the end of the year, he was set to earn $1 million a year.[17] Critics called him "the velvet voice".[12] In 1962, Ebony magazine listed Mathis as one of 30-35 millionaires on their list of "America's 100 Richest Negroes".[20][21] Mathis had two of his biggest hits in 1962 and 1963, with "Gina" (number 6) and "What Will Mary Say" (number 9).

Split from Noga

In October 1964, Mathis sued Noga to void their management arrangement, which Noga fought with a counterclaim in December 1964. After splitting from Noga, Mathis established Jon Mat Records, incorporated in California on May 11, 1967, to produce his recordings, and Rojon Productions, incorporated in California on September 30, 1964, to handle all of his concert, theater, showroom, and television appearances, and all promotional and charitable activities. (Previously, he founded Global Records to produce his Mercury albums.) His new manager and business partner was Ray Haughn, who, until his death in September 1984, helped guide Mathis' career.

Popularity plateau

While Mathis continued to make music, the ascent of the Beatles and early 1970s album rock kept his adult contemporary recordings out of the pop singles charts, until he experienced a career renaissance in the late 1970s. Mathis had the 1976 Christmas number one single in the UK with the song "When a Child Is Born" and later, in 1978, recorded "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late" with singer Deniece Williams. The lyrics and music were arranged by Nat Kipner and John McIntyre Vallins. Released as a single in 1978, it reached number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 pop chart, number nine on the Canadian Singles Chart and number three on the UK Singles Chart. It also topped the US R&B and adult contemporary charts. "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late" was certified gold and silver in the US and in the UK by the RIAA and the British Phonographic Industry, respectively. It was his first number one hit since his 1957 chart-topper "Chances Are".

The duo released a follow-up duet, their version of "You're All I Need to Get By", peaking at number 47 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1983, they were credited with performing "Without Us", the theme song for the American television sitcom Family Ties, from its second season onwards. The success of the duets with Williams prompted Mathis to record duets with a variety of partners, including Dionne Warwick, Natalie Cole, Gladys Knight, Jane Olivor, Stephanie Lawrence, and Nana Mouskouri. A compilation album, also called Too Much, Too Little, Too Late, released by Sony Music in 1995, featured the title track among other songs by Mathis and Williams.

Recent years

From 1980 to 1981, Mathis recorded an album with Chic's Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers, I Love My Lady, which remained unreleased in its entirety until its 2017 appearance in the 68-disc collection The Voice of Romance: The Columbia Original Album Collection. Three tracks had appeared on a Chic box set in 2010 and a fourth, the title track, on Mathis' Ultimate Collection in 2011 and the Chic Organization's Up All Night in 2013.

Mathis returned to the British Top 30 album chart in 2007 with the Sony BMG release The Very Best of Johnny Mathis; in 2008 with the CD "A Night to Remember"; and again in 2011 with "The Ultimate Collection"[22]

Mathis continues to perform live, but from 2000 forward, he limited his concert performances to about 50 to 60 per year. Mathis is one of the last pop singers who travels with his own full orchestra (as opposed to a band).

On January 14, 2016, Mathis performed to a sold-out audience in The Villages as part of his "60th Anniversary Concert Tour."[23]

Career achievements

Mathis, Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Billy Joel, and Bruce Springsteen carry the distinction of having the longest tenure of any recording artists on the Columbia label. With the exception of a four-year break to record for Mercury Records in the mid-1960s, Mathis has been with Columbia Records throughout his career, from 1956 to 1963 and from 1968 to the present. (Dylan spent a couple of years at Asylum Records then re-signed with Columbia; Bennett recorded for Verve and his own Improv label from 1972 to 1986 when he returned to Columbia; Joel has been with the label since his 1973 album "Piano Man;" Streisand and Springsteen have never left.)

Mathis has had five of his albums on the Billboard charts simultaneously, an achievement equaled by only three other singers: Frank Sinatra, Barry Manilow, and (posthumously) Prince. Mathis has released 200 singles and had 71 songs charted worldwide.

Other appearances

Mathis has taped 12 of his own television specials and made over 300 television guest appearances, with 54 (Rojon Productions Archives) of them being on The Tonight Show. Longtime Tonight Show host Johnny Carson said, "Johnny Mathis is the best ballad singer in the world." Mathis appeared on the show with Carson's successor, Jay Leno,[24] on March 29, 2007, to sing "The Shadow of Your Smile" with the saxophonist Dave Koz. Through the years, Mathis' songs (or parts of them) have been heard in more than 100 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. In 1989, Mathis sang the theme for the ABC daytime soap opera Loving.

Mathis served as narrator for '51 Dons, a 2014 documentary film about the integrated and undefeated 1951 San Francisco Dons football team.[25] The team was denied a chance to play in a bowl game because it refused to agree to not play its two African-American players, Ollie Matson and Burl Toler, who were childhood friends of Mathis.[26]

Mathis appeared in the Season 14 finale of Criminal Minds, "Truth or Dare", in which he played himself as an old friend of David Rossi and served as best man at Rossi's wedding.

Matthis also played himself in the 2017 movie Just Getting Started.

Personal life

Despite missing the Olympic high-jump trials, Mathis retains his enthusiasm for sports. Mathis is an avid golfer, with nine holes in one to his credit. Mathis has also hosted several Johnny Mathis Golf Tournaments in the United Kingdom and the U.S. Since 1985, he has been hosting a charity golf tournament in Belfast sponsored by Shell,[27] and the annual Johnny Mathis Invitational Track & Field Meet has continued at San Francisco State University since it started in 1982. Mathis also enjoys cooking, and published a cookbook called Cooking for You Alone in 1982.[28]

Mathis has undergone rehabilitation for alcoholism and prescription drug addiction[14] and he 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.

Mathis is a convert to Catholicism.[29][30]

Mathis was quoted[31] in a 1982 Us magazine article, stating: "Homosexuality is a way of life that I've grown accustomed to."[32] Mathis later said the comment was supposed to have been off the record[33] and did not publicly discuss his sexual orientation for many years after. In 2006, Mathis said that his silence had been due to death threats he received as a result of that 1982 article.[34][35] On April 13, 2006, Mathis had a podcast interview with The Strip in which he tackled the subject once again, and how his reluctance to speak on the subject was partly a generational issue.[36] In an interview with CBS News Sunday Morning aired May 14, 2017, Mathis discussed the Us magazine article and confirmed that he is gay by saying, "I come from San Francisco. It's not unusual to be gay in San Francisco. I've had some girlfriends, some boyfriends, just like most [sic] people. But I never got married, for instance. I knew that I was gay." Mathis spoke to many news sources, including CBS, about his sexuality and his coming out story.[37][33]

In November 2015, Mathis returned home from a concert in Ohio to find his Hollywood house destroyed by a fire. He had owned it for 56 years.[38] On January 17, 2023, a series of powerful storms drenched the hillside in front of his rebuilt home in Hollywood Hills, causing a collapse of the hillside, and crushing a silver Jaguar with debris and mud. The hillside landslide cut off utilities, exposing water pipes and infrastructure to the elements. The ground had given way in the 1400 block of Sunset Plaza Drive during the storm, taking out landscaping and terrain next to the home. It remained unclear at the time of news reports exactly when Mathis, aged 87 and still performing concerts, would be able to return and reoccupy his home, as its structural stability was uncertain given surrounding terrain damage.[39]

While the character Shy Baldwin from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a composite character based on several different singers, Rachel Brosnahan said she most strongly associated Mathis with the character.[40]

Honors and awards


In 2003, the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences awarded Mathis the Lifetime Achievement Award. 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.[41]

Grammy Hall of Fame

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".[42][43]

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

Great American Songbook Hall of Fame

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 (whose daughter Natalie Cole accepted 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."[44]


On June 1, 1972, Mathis was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to music. Six years later, Mathis' 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 Academy Awards ceremony, in his second performance at the Oscars. Mathis' first occurred 20 years earlier in 1958, when he sang "Wild Is the Wind" by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington from the movie of the same name. Mathis was also awarded the Society of Singers Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.[45] In 2007, he was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame. In 1988, Mathis appeared as a guest vocalist, accompanied by Henry Mancini, on Late Night with David Letterman to sing Henry's theme to the "Viewer Mail" segment. In 2011, Mathis received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement presented by Awards Council member General Colin Powell.[46][47]

In 2017, San Francisco State University awarded Mathis an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree. He had attended San Francisco State for three semesters before withdrawing in 1956 to pursue his music career.[48]


Main article: Johnny Mathis discography



  1. ^ Bush, John. "Johnny Mathis > Artist Biography by John Bush". RhythmOne. Retrieved July 19, 2020. Johnny Mathis concentrates on romantic readings of jazz and pop standards ... from the '70s onwards Mathis began incorporating more varied styles of music into his recordings, including soft rock, R&B and country.[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ Gaydos, Steven (January 4, 2019). "Johnny Mathis Remembers His Jazz Roots". Variety. Retrieved April 17, 2023.
  3. ^ "Johnny Mathis". National Museum of African American History and Culture. Retrieved April 17, 2023.
  4. ^ a b Johnny Mathis interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1969).
  5. ^ a b "Johnny Mathis Official Website". Retrieved May 12, 2011.
  6. ^ "Johnny Mathis: My family values". The Guardian. January 10, 2014. Retrieved February 17, 2021.
  7. ^ Herschthal, Eric (June 25, 2014). ""For Blacks And Jews, A Musical Gray Area" Eric Herschthal, Jewish Week, October 12, 2010". Archived from the original on October 11, 2016. Retrieved June 29, 2014.
  8. ^ Heller, Karen (August 2, 2018). "Johnny Mathis, the voice of the '50s, was always ahead of his time. Now he's ready to talk about it". The Washington Post.
  9. ^ Green, Jesse (June 25, 2000). "Forever Johnny". The New Yorker.
  10. ^ Wayne Bledsoe, "Not Perfect, But Wonderful." Knoxville (TN) News-Sentinel, September 28, 2003, p. E1.
  11. ^ 1634–1699: McCusker, J. J. (1997). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States: Addenda et Corrigenda (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1700–1799: McCusker, J. J. (1992). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1800–present: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Retrieved February 29, 2024.
  12. ^ a b "The Incomparable Mr. Johnny Mathis". Station Avenue Productions. April 3, 2006. Archived from the original on March 6, 2012. Retrieved February 2, 2007.
  13. ^ a b "Johnny Mathis". Las Vegas Online Entertainment Guide. 2006. Retrieved February 2, 2007.
  14. ^ a b c Ouzounian, Richard (August 22, 2009). "Johnny Mathis: A born crooner". Toronto Star. Archived from the original on October 17, 2012. Retrieved June 13, 2023.
  15. ^ "Hall of Fame: Johnny Mathis". San Francisco State Gators. Retrieved June 13, 2023.
  16. ^ Hartlaub, Peter (April 15, 2022). "Johnny Mathis — yes, the singer — was an S.F. high jump champion. Seventy years later, he's still giving back". San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on April 1, 2024. Retrieved May 1, 2024.
  17. ^ a b "Mathematics on Mathis". Variety. December 24, 1958. p. 57. Retrieved May 21, 2019 – via
  18. ^ "Top LP's". Billboard. July 20, 1968. p. 70.
  19. ^ "Top LP's & Tapes". Billboard. October 29, 1983. p. 73.
  20. ^ "America's 100 Richest Negroes". Ebony. May 1962. pp. 130–137. Retrieved November 15, 2020.
  21. ^ "5 From Show Business In 'Ebony' Roster of 100 U.S. Negro Millionaires". Variety. May 2, 1962. p. 1.
  22. ^ "Johnny Mathis – Albums". Official Charts Company. Retrieved February 17, 2014.
  23. ^ Violanti, Tony (January 15, 2016). "Johnny Mathis' show at The Sharon had been set in motion by the late Oscar Feliu". Retrieved February 24, 2016.
  24. ^ "NBC Tonight Show with Jay Leno". 2007. Retrieved March 31, 2007.
  25. ^ Jarvis, Kimberly. "Black History Month Premiere: '51 Dons". ESPN. Archived from the original on February 9, 2014. Retrieved October 27, 2014.
  26. ^ "ESPN Documentary: '51 Dons". University of San Francisco. Archived from the original on October 27, 2014. Retrieved October 27, 2014.
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  28. ^ "Johnny Mathis". Los Angeles Sentinel. December 16, 2010. Retrieved June 27, 2019.
  29. ^ "Johnny Mathis |". Retrieved August 19, 2021.
  30. ^ "Johnny Mathis Appreciation Society: The Beginning, with Clem, John's Father". Johnny Mathis Appreciation Society. November 22, 2016. Retrieved August 19, 2021.
  31. ^ 'Sometimes, I feel like a kid again', by Michael Shelden, in the Daily Telegraph; published October 14, 2002. Retrieved November 23, 2014
  32. ^ Stephens, Vincent (2010). "Shaking the Closet: Analyzing Johnny Mathis's Sexual Elusiveness, 1956–82". Popular Music and Society. 33 (5): 597–623. doi:10.1080/03007760903523468. S2CID 144051596.(subscription required)
  33. ^ a b Heller, Karen (August 2, 2018). "Johnny Mathis, the voice of the '50s, was always ahead of his time. Now he's ready to talk about it". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 18, 2020.
  34. ^ "Report on interview with the Daily Express". Daily News. New York. March 10, 2006. Retrieved February 2, 2007.
  35. ^ "Johnny Mathis In Death Threats". February 26, 2006. Retrieved February 2, 2007.
  36. ^ Johnny Mathis. The Strip. April 13, 2006. Archived from the original (.MP3) on May 29, 2008. Retrieved February 2, 2007.
  37. ^ CBS News Sunday Morning. May 14, 2017. CBS.
  38. ^ Suter, Leanne (November 3, 2015). "Fire tears through singer Johnny Mathis' Hollywood Hills home". ABC7 Los Angeles.
  39. ^ "Hillside collapses in front of Johnny Mathis' Hollywood Hills home, crushes singer's Jaguar". January 17, 2023.
  40. ^ "6 Marvelous MRS. Maisel Characters Inspired by Real People". January 23, 2020.
  41. ^ "Lifetime Achievement Award". Archived from the original on February 17, 2011. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
  42. ^ "Grammy Hall of Fame Database". Archived from the original on January 22, 2011. Retrieved June 29, 2014.
  43. ^ "Grammy Hall of Fame (Letter J)". Grammy.Org. The Recording Academy. Archived from the original on January 22, 2011. Retrieved June 3, 2015.
  44. ^ "The Center for the Performing Arts – Home of the Palladium – Carmel, Indiana". Retrieved June 29, 2014.[permanent dead link]
  45. ^ "Ella Award Special Events". February 12, 2011. Archived from the original on May 14, 2015. Retrieved May 10, 2015.
  46. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  47. ^ "Johnny Mathis Biography and Interview. Photo: 2011". American Academy of Achievement.
  48. ^ "Johnny Mathis News & Information". May 25, 2017. Archived from the original on October 20, 2017. Retrieved November 4, 2017.