John Royce Mathis (b. September 30, 1935), known popularly as Johnny Mathis, is an American Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter of popular music. Tonight Show host Johnny Carson, who heard over 2000 singers on his show, said: "Johnny Mathis is the best ballad singer in the world."
Mathis was born fourth of seven children in Gilmer, Texas to Clem and Mildred Mathis. The family moved when he was young to San Francisco, California on Post Street, in the famous Fillmore district where he was raised. His father worked for a time in vaudeville, and when he saw the budding talent in his son, the elder Mathis bought an old upright piano for US$25 to encourage his efforts.
At thirteen, Mathis was taken to Connie Cox, a San Francisco Bay Area voice teacher, who accepted him as a student in exchange for work he would do around her house. He studied with Cox for six years, learning vocal scales and exercises, voice production, classical and operatic skills.He remains one of the few popular singers who has received years of professional voice training that included opera.
At George Washington High School, Mathis was well known, not only for his singing abilities, but also as a star athlete. On the track and field team, he was a high jumper and hurdler, and on the basketball team, he earned four athletic letters. In 1954, Mathis enrolled at San Francisco State University on a scholarship with the intention of becoming an English and physical education teacher. Mathis remains an important part of San Francisco State University's sports history—in 1954 he broke future basketball great Bill Russell's high jump record by jumping 6 ft 5 in (1.96 meters).
He was spotted by Helen Noga, owner of The Black Hawk club, at a jam session and she became his manager. In September 1955, after Noga landed Mathis a job singing weekends at Ann Dee’s 440 Club, she ruthlessly pursued jazz producer George Avakian, who she found out was on vacation in the Bay Area. Avakian came to see him sing, and sent the now famous telegram to Columbia Records: Have found phenomenal 19-year old boy who could go all the way. Send blank contracts.
Mathis now had to decide whether to go to the Olympic tryouts, to which he had been invited, or to keep an appointment in New York to make his first recordings, which were subsequently released in 1956. With his father's advice, Mathis opted for a recording career and the rest is history.
His first album Johnny Mathis: A New Sound In Popular Song was a slow selling jazz album, but Mathis stayed in New York to play the clubs. His second album was produced by Columbia records vice-president and producer Mitch Miller, who defined the Mathis sound - he preferred him to sing soft, romantic ballads. In late 1956, Mathis recorded two of his most popular songs - "Wonderful! Wonderful!" and "It's Not For Me To Say."
That year MGM signed Mathis to sing the latter song in the 1957 film Lizzie, and shortly afterward he made his second film appearance for 20th Century Fox singing the title song in A Certain Smile -he had small acting roles in both movies as a bar singer. This early cinematic visibility in two successful movies gave him mass exposure. Next was his appearance on the very popular Ed Sullivan Show in 1957 and this helped to seal his stardom. Critics called him the velvet voice.
Johnny’s accomplishments are numerous and varied. He holds many records and has set many precedents in the music industry. In 1958, two years after being signed by Columbia Records, Johnny’s Greatest Hits was released. It began a “Greatest Hits” tradition copied by every record company since then. Johnny’s Greatest Hits went on to become one of the most popular albums of all time and spent an unprecedented 490 continuous weeks (almost ten years) on the Billboard Top Albums Chart. This record has been noted in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Mathis moved away from show tunes 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 Mathis 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.
Mathis continued to release and sell albums throughout the '90s -- his fifth decade of recording for Columbia -- and beyond, among them 1998's Because You Loved Me: Songs of Diane Warren and 2000's Mathis on Broadway. Mathis followed the Broadway album with 2002's The Christmas Album and 2005's Isn't it Romantic: The Standards Album, both of which found the iconic vocalist in fine form.
In 2008, Mathis released the Walter Afanasieff-produced and arranged A Night to Remember, his first straight-ahead adult contemporary album in over a decade. Let It Be Me: Mathis in Nashville, Mathis' first full-length album of country music, appeared in September of 2010. The album ultimately garnered a Grammy Award nomination for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.
In his free time, Johnny loves to golf. He plays golf almost every day when he’s not traveling and has sung at many golf banquets such as the Ryder Cup. In 1985 and 1986, Johnny hosted his own golf tournament, The Johnny Mathis Seniors PGA Classic which was held in Los Angeles, California.
Johnny’s other favorite avocation is cooking. He is a gourmet cook who cooks for himself and often others when he’s home or traveling. His mother taught him at an early age how to cook up a storm and do it well. He’s enjoyed doing so all his life.
Mathis continues to perform but from 2000 onwards has limited his concert engagements to less appearances per year. (edited from Wikipedia & lastfm & allmusic)