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 became one of the last and most popular in a long line
of traditional male vocalists who emerged before the rock-dominated
1960s, Johnny concentrated on romantic readings of jazz
and pop standards for the ever-shrinking adult-contemporary
audience of the '60s and '70s. Though he started with a
flurry of singles, Johnny later made it big in the album
market, where a dozen of his LPs hit gold or platinum and
over sixty made the charts. He concentrated on theme-oriented
albums of showtunes and traditional favorites during the
'60s and began using soft rock by the '70s remaining a popular
concert attraction well into the '90s.
John Royce Mathis
Sep 30, 1935 in Gilmer, Texas, USA
studied with an opera coach prior to his teenage years,
and was almost lured into the profession. His other inspirations
were the smoother crossover jazz vocalists of the 1940s
- Nat King Cole, Billy Eckstine and Lena Horne.
Johnny 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 first album
in 1957. Despite the name talent and choice of standards,
it was mostly ignored upon release.
A&R executive Mitch Miller - known for his desperately
pop-slanted Singalong albums and TV show -- 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" and his first number one, "Chances Are."
From that point on, Johnny Mathis concentrated strictly
on lush ballads for adult-contemporary listeners.
he charted consistently, hit singles were rare for Johnny
during the late '50s and '60s - half of his career Top
Ten output had occurred in 1957 alone - so he chose to
focus instead on the burgeoning album market, much like
Frank Sinatra, his main rival during the late '50s as
the most popular traditional male vocalist. Johnny moved
away from showtunes and traditional pop into soft rock
during the '70s, and found his second number one single,
"Too Much, Too Little, Too Late," in 1978. Recorded
as a duet with Deniece Williams, the single prompted Johnny
to begin trying duets with a variety of partners (including
Dionne Warwick, Natalie Cole, Gladys Knight and Nana Mouskouri),
though none of the singles enjoyed the success of the
original. Johnny continued to release and sell albums
throughout the '90s -- his fifth decade of recording for
Columbia -- among them 1998's Because
You Loved Me: Songs of Diane Warren and 2000's
Johnny Mathis On Broadway.
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