Full name, John Royce Mathis; born September 30, 1935, in San Francisco, Calif.; son of Clem (a chauffer and handyman) and Mildred (a domestic) Mathis. Education: Attended San Francisco State College. Religion: Roman Catholic. Addresses: Residence --Hollywood Hills, CA. Office --Rojon Productions, 3500 West Olive Ave., #750, Burbank, CA 91505.

Johnny Mathis is one of the most successful singers of ballads in the American music world. His recordings have been represented on the music charts for longer than any except those of famous crooner Frank Sinatra, and he has earned at least eight gold albums. Rising to the peak of his reputation during the late 1950s and early 1960s, Mathis resisted the rock and roll phenomenon that swept the nation in those years and established a unique popularity for himself in the musical genre of easy listening. Perhaps because of the fact that much of his music celebrates the ideals of romantic love, Mathis is especially well-received by female listeners, but he has garnered critical acclaim as well. As reviewer Sidney Fields put it in the New York Mirror: "His voice has incredible range; he improvises on a theme in any tempo and mood with great originality; and he can move from a tender ballad to swing, to rhythm and blues, and even vehemence." Despite Mathis's longevity on the charts, however, he did not have a number one single until his 1978 duet with Deniece Williams, "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late."

Though he was born September 30, 1935, into a poor black family in San Francisco, California, Mathis's childhood and adolescence predicted his later success. His father, Clem, a former Texas vaudeville performer who Mathis calls "my biggest hero, the reason I started to sing," according to R. Windeler of People magazine, was quick to recognize and encourage his fourth child's talent. Clem bought Johnny a second-hand piano when he was eight, and taught him vaudeville routines for performance within the family. The young Mathis also sang in church, and won a local amateur talent contest when he was fourteen. The year before, he had impressed Oakland, California, music teacher Connie Cox so much that she offered him free voice lessons. The gesture was a helpful one because the Mathis family could not afford to pay for them; the lessons, primarily in classical and opera singing, continued for six years.

But music was not Mathis's only option for success. He was a good student with leadership quality. Mathis was the first black child ever elected student body president of San Francisco's Roosevelt Junior High School, and when he graduated to George Washington High School he served as the treasurer of his class. He also excelled in athletics, winning six letters for his participation in various sports, including basketball, hurdling, and high jumping. Mathis entered San Francisco State College with the intention of becoming an English teacher, but his continued athletic achievements led him to contemplate teaching physical education or coaching track. He set a college record for the high jump, and was invited to try out for the 1956 Olympic Games, but he turned this down to concentrate on his musical career.

While attending San Francisco State, Mathis became interested in jazz, and began singing in local nightclubs with a sextet led by one of his fellow students, Virgil Gonsalves. Performing at San Francisco's Black Hawk club one night in 1955, Mathis attracted the attention of the club's co-owner, Helen Noga. Noga was determined to make him a star, and became his manager. She helped Mathis obtain more nightclub bookings, during one of which, at a gay bar that also featured female impersonators, he was discovered by George Avakian, head album producer for Columbia Records.

Though somewhat regretful of leaving his college education unfinished, Mathis went to New York City to record for Columbia. While in New York, he also performed in some of the better clubs there, including the Village Vanguard and the Blue Angel. The first album Mathis made was flavored with jazz arrangements, and did not sell well. But Avakian had faith in his latest discovery, and sent him to work with the head of Columbia's singles department, Mitch Miller. Miller realized that the young singer's talent had been misdirected, and steered him away from jazz to the soft ballad style that became Mathis's trademark. "Wonderful! Wonderful!," released in 1957, became Mathis's first big hit. He soon followed this up with "It's Not for Me to Say," and, perhaps his best-known recording, the romantic "Chances Are."

Mathis also became involved in films, singing the title song for the 1957 film "Lizzie," and making an appearance in the picture as a nightclub singer. He had a slightly larger role, also as a nightclub singer, in "A Certain Smile," released in 1958. Most sources assert that Mathis's presence in "Smile" was the only thing that saved it from box office failure; he did, however, score a hit with the title song. More recently, Mathis and singer Jane Olivor had a popular success with "The Last Time I Felt Like This," the theme from the film version of playwright Neil Simon's "Same Time Next Year."

Mathis continued to have many successes throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s, including "Small World," "Misty," and "What Will Mary Say," but then his popularity as a recording artist waned. He became dissatisfied with Noga's handling of his career in 1964, and established his own company, Rojon Productions, in order not only to become his own manager but to promote new talent.

Mathis has remained in demand as a concert performer, however, and his 1978 return to the charts--his duet with Deniece Williams, "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late"--was a milestone for him. It was his first number one record, and, because of Williams's following, made Mathis popular with black audiences for the first time; his previous Columbia hits had been aimed primarily at whites.

by Elizabeth Thomas

Johnny Mathis's Career

Sang with a jazz group while in college; vocal soloist and concert performer, 1955--; recording artist, 1956--. Actor in motion pictures, including Lizzie (1957) and A Certain Smile (1958). Established Rojon Productions, 1964.

Johnny Mathis's Awards

Eight gold albums.

Famous Works

Further Reading


Visitor Comments Add a comment…

almost 14 years ago

When I had my Bridal shower at the Casino Royal in Washington D.C. in 1956 Johnny was just starting out. He came over to me & my finance to wish us the best of luck.We have gone to see him whenever we were near where he was appearing. He is the greatest singer & we are going to be at his concert at San Manuel Indian Casino on June 3rd. Would love to get a chance to say hello. Marsha & Shelly Kogod Thanks for the memories. We will be in elite 3 row r seat 35 & 36. Thank you.

about 14 years ago

Wow...my husband treated me to a live performance by Johnny at the Chumash Casino & Resort. He was incredible, at age 73, his voice is still fabulous, it brought me to tears. I was 12yr. old in 1957 when Johnny made his first recording and I have been listening to him all these years. In junior high, Mary Mead(what ever happened to her) had teen parties at her home, we would dance to all of the fast songs and then came Johnny, oh my, with the hormones raging and dancing so close to "Don Fergus" wow, those were very special times. Much more innocent than todays world. I cant believe that someone on these comment pages asked why Johnny never got married!??? He explains it all in his version of the Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet. I am fortunate to live in the Santa Ynez Valley where Johnny Mathis sister lives, I think she still lives here. Some local people have over the years seen Johnny around town. I have not been so fortunate!! So now that I have rambled on and on, I just want to say again...Johnny you still have it and I am sooo glad I got to see him live before I die. Now I have to work on seeing Barbra Striesand live!!!

about 14 years ago

I was driving with my dog today and heard Johnny singing All I Ask Of You from Phantom Of The Opera. I got home and started checking and saw that he recorded that song in 2009, not even a year ago, at the age of 73, if I did the numbers right. At any rate, his voice sounds just about the same as his first hit, Wonderful, Wonderful, in 1957, when I was a fresman in high school just south of Sacramento. He has one of the most beautiful voices in the world. I play the piano by ear and have been told I have perfect pitch, (whatever that means) so I guess I am a fairly good judge of pitch, tone and perhaps timing, which is one of the reasons I have nearly every song Johnny ever recorded and continue to play his music on a regular basis. I do not have a CD with this song on it which I will find and purchase. Thanks for all the years of beautiful music Johnny....regards, Rob

almost 15 years ago

i ve been listening to your songs since i was 11. I fall in love to you since then. I am waiting for you to visit us in Malaysia. You have big fan here. We'll be waiting! Luv ya!

about 15 years ago

You really are the greatest!! Why don't you get married?

about 15 years ago

Why can't you open up a little more to your fans? We give, you should give back.

about 15 years ago

I have been a fan of Johnny"s since 1958.....been to his concerts and even had the pleasure of talking to him on the balcony of a hotel in Hull, Ma. in 2006. Have every album, tape and cd he has ever made. I'm wondering why he can't be a little more open with his fans and let us have a way to contact him like most other artists do.....little to ask considering all that he gets from "us" his fans. Just a thought.

about 15 years ago

In my lifetime, I have heard all rhe great singers and have a tremendous collection of them all. Mr. Mathis you have by far the greatest voice of them all. Thank you for your music and may you have many more successful years. I have never written to a celebrity before, but I thought I needed to let you know of my admiration. Your admirer, Jack Gray

over 15 years ago

Johny, I've been listening to your Christmas Album for 35-40 years! Thank you. 5 years ago, I finally listened closely and became a committed Christian!!! Thank you again for your awesome guidance.(esp. O Holy Night) In His Name, Bob Gatza

over 15 years ago

Hello Johnny Mathis, for the last 46 years I have heard your songs being played on the record player by my grand mother who has to see your concerts once a year when you are playing. Even though she has trouble getting around she is still determined to see her Johnny Mathis sing. I am waiting to get her tickets to your pechanga show on Dec 13 for her eighty something , never tell your age birthday. I was thinking if you read this message, is ther any possible way of my grand mother meeting you personally? It would be the best gift in life for her. She is such a kind lady who care and does for so many people especially the poor. I would be so happy to have her meet you. If you read this please email me as I would be willing to take her almost anywhere to she could see you..Thank You, from a grand daughter who wants to give a wonderful lady something back.

over 15 years ago

Hello Mr. Mathis::I had the pleasure of seeing you perform August 10, 2008 in Westbury, New York. Quite a number of years ago I did attend a NYC concert but because I was so far back in the audience, I could barley see you. It was rather like listening instead to an album. When you stepped on the stage August 10th, it was as though an old friend stopped by to share an evening of wonderful music with me. This time I was close enough to see you perform. You made it seem as though you was singing directly to me. ( my sister who also attended was quite sure you sang to her). No, you sang to everyone. That is the magic you hold over your audience. I soo look forward to your next visit. Mean while I filled my IPOD with all your songs. You have become my walking companion in the evening.

over 15 years ago

Hello Johnny: We attended the Thursday night August 21/08 concert at Rama Casino and your show was absolutely wonderful! It was special as we were celebrating our 45th Wedding Anniversary and I had just given my husband a silver bracelet with the words "Until the Twelfth of Never" inscribed on the back. You sang it that night and just made it a perfect evening. God Bless You for continuing to entertain us with the "only true love songs" ever.

over 15 years ago


about 16 years ago

I have no idea if Mr. Mathis ever sees this, but if so... When in Pittsburgh on Saturday, July 12, if you could include "All The Time" in your program, that would cap the evening. I bought tickets to celebrate our wedding anniversary and this song was our mantra during courtship until we could be together "all the time". We are ever thankful for your talents; you spread so much joy and love through your voice.

over 16 years ago

Hey Johnny: Would love to hear you sing your own version of "I'm In The Mood for Love" Karen

over 16 years ago

I was born in 1957 the same year Johnny debut is first album. Johnny has just celebrated his 50+ years in show business and I am proud to be celebrating my 50th birthday with Johnny in Atlanta on November 23. 2007 as a birthday gift from my fiancee. Happy, Happy Birthday to me for me as I will hear all my favorite Johnny Mathis songs including my all time favorite "MISTY" I would love to get more information on how I can become a member of Johny's fan club