From an early age, Johnny Mathis was destined for the music business. Growing up in San Francisco, Johnny's father taught him his first song, "My Blue Heaven." This was accompanied by voice lessons which he began at age 13. Throughout his youth, Johnny was known not only for his singing ability, but also his athleticism in the areas of track and field and basketball, as well. In 1954, Johnny enrolled at San Francisco State College with the intention of being an English and Physical Education teacher.
A fellow student whose sextet was working at the Black Hawk nightclub brought Johnny in for a Sunday afternoon jam session. It was at the Black Hawk that Helen Noga, co-owner of the club, first heard him sing. She decided that she wanted to manage his career.
In early September of 1955, Johnny landed a job singing weekends at Ann Dee's 440 Club. After repeated attempts, Helen convinced George Avakian, then head of Jazz A&R at Columbia, to see him. Avakian came to the club, heard Johnny sing and sent the now famous telegram to his record company: "Have found phenomenal 19 year old boy who could go all the way. Send blank contracts."
Avakian left for New York after telling Johnny that he would eventually send for him. Johnny continued his studies at San Francisco State and gained additional fame as a high jumper. In early 1956, Johnny was asked to attend the trials for the 1956 Olympic teams that would travel to Melbourne, Australia that summer. At the same time, Columbia Records requested that Johnny come to New York to start arrangements for his first recording session. Johnny's father helped his son decide that his future and best interests were with the recording company. So, Johnny gave up his chance to become a member of the USA Olympic Team. He went to New York to record his first album in March of 1956.
The first album was a collection of jazz oriented renditions of popular standards entitled: "Johnny Mathis: A New Sound In Popular Song." It included jazz musicians Gil Evans, John Lewis and Teo Macero and songs like "Angel Eyes", "Easy to Love" and "Babalu". The album enjoyed only moderate success because jazz vocal albums were not good sellers. Nevertheless, Johnny remained in New York and landed bookings at some of the leading nightclubs such as the Village Vanguard, The Blue Angel and Basin Street East.
Soon, Columbia placed Johnny under the supervision of producer Mitch Miller. Mitch favored using Johnny's voice to sing soft, romantic ballads. At his second recording session, in the fall of 1956, Johnny recorded two singles. These songs were to become among his most popular all-time greatest hits: "Wonderful, Wonderful" and "It's Not For Me To Say." Subsequently, MGM Studios signed Johnny to sing "It's Not For Me To Say" in the film Lizzie . He played a tavern piano bar singer. In 1958, Johnny made another motion picture appearance. This time it was for 20th Century Fox in A Certain Smile. In this movie, he sang the title song playing himself in an elegant nightclub scene. Since then, Johnny's voice has been used in countless Hollywood movies for theme songs, background music and to enhance a particular setting or segment.
"Wonderful, Wonderful" and "It's Not For Me To Say" reached their peaks on the BILLBOARD pop chart in July of 1957. These successes were followed by the monumental single "Chances Are" which became Johnny's first #1 hit.
In June of 1957, Johnny appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show where he was introduced to the record buying public and became a national celebrity and household name. Columbia Records continued to release albums of Johnny singing beautiful and romantic ballads, classic standards and the best songs from Broadway musicals. These albums, like the singles, became immediate successes with sales in the millions. It was not uncommon for Johnny to have as many as four albums on the BILLBOARD Top Albums chart at the same time. In late 1959, Johnny recorded another song that became synonymous with the name of Johnny Mathis, the Erroll Garner composition, "Misty".
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.
According to record historian Joel Whitburn, Johnny is one of only five recording artists to have Top 40 Hits spanning each of the four decades since 1955. Amazingly, his second #1 Hit Single, "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late" (recorded with Deniece Williams), came almost 21 years after his very first #1 Hit Single, "Chances Are".
Johnny has been honored to make several appearances before various heads of state. Starting in June of 1973, he sang at a State Dinner held in honor of the President of Liberia. In 1978, Johnny sang for the British Royal Family at A Command Performance held at The London Palladium. He performed for President and Mrs. Reagan at the State Dinner held in honor of the Prime Minister of Japan in April of 1987. Four years later in April of 1991, he sang for President and Mrs. Bush in honor of the President of Nicaragua. Most recently, in May of 1994, Johnny sang for President and Mrs. Clinton (along with the other five living First Ladies) at a very special First Ladies Tribute.
Johnny has also been honored by entertainment heads of state. In June of 1972, he was awarded his own star on the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame. He has participated in the Academy Awards presentations many times to sing the song nominated in the "Best Song" category. He has received two Grammy nominations. The first was for "Misty" in 1960 in the category of Best Vocal Performance Single Record or Track Male. The second came in 1992 for "In a Sentimental Mood / Mathis Sings Ellington" in the category of Best Traditional Pop Performance.
Johnny has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame two times so far. In 1998, he made the famous Hall's list with "Chances Are" (Columbia Traditional Pop Single 1957). In 2002 he made the list again with "Misty" (Columbia Traditional Pop single 1959). Most impressive of all is his 2003 Lifetime Achievement Award by the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
2004 was a very busy year for Johnny. He sang "Over the Rainbow" with Ray Charles on Mr. Charles' "Genius Loves Company". (Johnny was very honored that Mr. Charles requested the song be played at his memorial service.) Also in 2004, Johnny recorded "Isn't It Romantic" a standards CD that was released in February 2005. 2006 marked Johnny's 50th anniversary as a recording artist.
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. For the past several years, Johnny hosted a charity golf tournament, The Shell / Johnny Mathis Golf Classic which was held in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
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 has enjoyed doing so all his life.
Performing as a special guest with Mr. Mathis is comedian/musician, Gary Mule Deer. Gary Mule Deer's unique comedy and music have set him apart as one-of-a-kind. He has performed on every major concert stage in the country and made over 350 television appearances, including many on both The Tonight Show and The Late Show with David Letterman. He was one of six comedians, along with Jay Leno, to star on the first HBO Comedy Special Freddie Prinze and Friends. Gary was the co-host of Don Kirshner's Rock Concert for four years on NBC, and a regular on Make Me Laugh. He is currently featured on the DVDs "Jeff Foxworthy's Comedy Classics," and "The World's Greatest Stand-up Comedy Collection," hosted by Norm Crosby.
For additional information about this performance or other performances within the 2010-2011 series, call
the Luhrs Center Box Office at 717.477.SHOW (7469) or visit the Luhrs Center website at www.luhrscenter.com.
About the H. Ric Luhrs Performing Arts Center at Shippensburg UniversityThe mission of the H. Ric Luhrs Performing Arts Center at Shippensburg University is to support and enhance the University's role in academic and cultural enrichment for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The Luhrs Center's 1,500-seat state-of-the-art Grove Theatre is where programs to educate, enlighten and entertain are presented. Benefits of the Center to the region include expanding opportunities to participate in a wide range of cultural programming including full-scale Broadway companies, musical groups, symphonies, dance troupes and internationally known speakers. In addition, it adds options for professional training programs, youth programs and senior citizen programs; attracts regional and national business conferences, professional meetings and planning sessions; and additional visitors to the area which will result in a positive impact on the local and regional economy.