Monday, September 30, 2013

September 30: Johnny Mathis –“It’s Not for me to Say,” "Chances Are," “Wonderful! Wonderful!” - is 78-years-old today.

John Royce "Johnny" Mathis was born September 30, 1935 in Gilmer, Texas and grew up in the Richmond District of San Francisco, California. His father had worked in vaudeville, and when he saw his son's talent, he bought an old upright piano for $25.

When he was age 13, voice teacher Connie Cox accepted him as her student in exchange for work around her house. Johnny studied with Cox for six years, learning vocal scales and exercises, voice production, classical, and operatic singing. The first band he sang with was formed by his high school friend Merl Saunders.

Mathis was also star athlete at George Washington High School in San Francisco. He was a high jumper and a hurdler, and he played on the basketball team. In 1954, he enrolled at San Francisco State University on an athletic scholarship, intending to become an English teacher and a physical education teacher.

Mathis was spotted at a jam session by Helen Noga, co-owner of the Black Hawk Club in San Francisco and The DownBeat Club. She became his first musical manager. In September 1955, she contacted the jazz producer George Avakian, who came to listen to Mathis sing at Ann Dee's 440 Club. After doing so, he sent a telegram to Columbia Records stating: "Have found phenomenal 19-year-old boy who could go all the way. Send blank contracts."

At San Francisco State, Mathis had become a noteworthy high jumper, and in 1956, he was asked to try out for the U.S. Olympic Team that would travel to Melbourne, Australia. 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 his professional singing career in 1956, rather than trying to go to Melbourne. His LP record album was published in late 1956 instead of waiting until the first quarter of 1957.

Mathis's 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 the Columbia Records vice-president and record producer Mitch Miller, who helped to define the Mathis sound.

In late 1956, Mathis recorded two of his most popular songs: "Wonderful! Wonderful!" and "It's Not For Me To Say. Also that year the Metro Goldwyn Mayer film company signed up Mathis to sing the latter song in the movie Lizzie. Shortly afterwards, Mathis made his second film appearance for 20th Century Fox, singing the song :A Certain Smile" in the film of the same name. He had small acting roles in both movies as a bar singer.

Mathis received the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003, by the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. He is also a member of the Grammy Hall of Fame, which is a special Grammy award established in 1973 to honor recordings that are at least twenty-five years old, and that have "qualitative or historical significance."

For more about Johnny Mathis, visit his Website at –


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