HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY TO 1950’S CROONER JOHNNY MATHIS

Written by on October 10, 2019

Story by Chuck Tackett

HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY TO 1950’S CROONER JOHNNY MATHIS

“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 people. But, I never got married, for instance. I knew that I was Gay.”

Johnny Mathis

CBS News Sunday Morning interview

May 14th, 2017

As an adolescent/teenager in the late 1960’s to early 1970s, I’d heard of the singer Johnny Mathis. Unfortunately during that time, I didn’t appreciate the intoxicating beauty of his voice. All I knew was that he was a singer my parents liked, so in my immaturity, I considered him verboten.

It wasn’t until the mid to late 1970s, during the Disco era, that I discovered how captivating his pipes were. The late Marvin Gaye was my all-time favorite male singer and if I was captivated by Johnny Mathis’s voice, my immaturity led me to believe I couldn’t like both.

As my musical tastes matured during my 30’s and 40’s, I added Daryl Hall of “Hall & Oates” to the mix, so presently my top 3 favorite male singers of all time are Marvin Gaye, Johnny Mathis, and Daryl Hall. Honorable mentions are Jeffrey Osbourne, Gino Vanelli, and Luther Vandross. Speaking of Luther, I have never forgotten what he said in an interview about what he likes in a singer. He stated, “Vocal gymnastics does not impress me. What impresses me is pitch, tone, and clarity.” I decided that is what I will look for in a singer, but I digress.

Mathis was born John Royce Mathis on September 30th, 1935, the fourth of seven children in Gilmore, Texas. His family ended up in San Francisco, California, where Mathis grew up.

Johnny’s father, Clem Mathis worked in Vaudeville in its heyday. When he took note of his son’s talent, he bought him a used piano and encouraged him to sing and dance. John’s father taught him some of his songs and dance routines. Mathis would perform for visitors at home, in school, and at church functions.

When Mathis was 13, voice teacher Connie Cox accepted him as a student, in exchange for work around her home. The first band Johnny sang in was a high school band his classmate Merl Saunders formed. In 2008, at Merle’s funeral, Johnny eulogized him thanking him for giving him his first chance as a singer.

Besides his love for music, Mathis loved and excelled in sports while he attended George Washington High School in San Francisco. Mathis was a high jumper, hurdler, and on the basketball team. When he enrolled at San Francisco State in 1954, he did so on an athletic scholarship. He intended on becoming an English teacher and a Physical Education teacher.

While at college, Mathis set a jumping record of 6″ 5 and a 1/2 inches, 2 inches short of an Olympic record at the time. Presently, that is still one of the college’s jumping height records. In 1954, Mathis, and future Olympic track star Bill Russell were featured in an article together in the San Francisco Chronicle.

In 1956, Mr. Mathis quickly rose to fame. Johnny had to choose between his two passions. Under the advice of his father, Mathis chose to become a professional singer.

It was the right call. After an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, in June 1957, Mathis rose to superstardom in numerous concert and television appearances. After the death of his manager in 1984, Johnny took sole responsibility for his career.

In the late 1970s, a new generation of fans became acquainted with Mathis. I was one of them. Mathis, along with famous R&B singer Denice Williams, teamed up for a duet that hit #1 in Billboard Hot 100 pop chart with their duet, “Too Much Too Little Too Late.”

Mathis’s songs have been part of pop culture for decades, used in various movies and television shows. The most popular for folks my age was 1971’s slasher thriller called “Play Misty For Me.” It was a popular movie that starred Clint Eastwood as a late-night disc jockey who has a fling with an obsessed fan, played by actress Jessica Walters, that turns deadly.

In the 1990s, I was an overnight radio disc jockey on 90.1FM KKFI, Kansas City’s listener-supported community radio station. My show was called “ChuxMix.” Buddies of mine would call me on the request line and whisper, “Play Misty For Me.”. “Misty” was a popular song from Johnny Mathis that Jessica Walter’s looney tune would seductively ask Clint Eastwood’s character to play.

Mathis, to this day, still goes on tour and uses a full orchestra to perform, instead of with a band. Mr. Mathis officially came out as Gay in May 2017.

Chuck’s Chat operates under an open authority. Opinions and comments are always welcome. Send them to¬†soultraindancing@yahoo.com


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