*“Chances Are” your chances are awfully good if you are seeking tickets to the Johnny Mathis performance at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts, located at 250 Bedford Park Boulevard West in the Bronx, on Saturday, May 21st at 8:00 p.m. But don’t wait too long as tickets are going fast.
The very private legendary singer, Johnny Mathis, agreed to talk to this journalist about his life, career and upcoming May 21st engagement at Lehman Center. Well known for his unique singing style and balladry, Mr. Mathis can turn a tune in almost any musical genre. Although his voice is synonymous with romance, his discography includes jazz, pop, Spanish and Brazilian music, Soul, Broadway standards, R&B, blues, disco numbers, Christmas songs and country and western tunes.
Born in Gilmer, Texas, Johnny, his parents, and 7 siblings moved to San Francisco when Mathis was 4 years old. There, his father did various jobs, including house painting. Musically inclined himself, Johnny’s father reconstructed a piano in the family home and music became Johnny’s focus; although, Mr. Mathis was also an exceptional athlete, excelling in high jump and track and field. Johnny was offered the opportunity to compete at the Olympic trials. However, he received at the same time a chance to sign with Columbia Records. Johnny chose a music career over the Olympics and well — the rest is history.
“I started off on the college tour as a high jumper and hurdler. Bill Russell and I went to school at the same time in San Francisco. We went to a lot of track meets together and competed in the high jump. My dad was a good singer so I also studied voice at the same time. I used to go to my father’s job sites when he painted houses. My job was to scrape off the old paint. I loved my Dad. He was my best friend. We came from a close knit family. My parents were very instrumental in my becoming a singer and I miss them to this day,” said Mathis. “The Olympic trials had been held at the University of California. The day I was supposed to compete in the trials, I got a telegram from Columbia Records offering me a record contract. That was the best news because when one is involved in sports there is always pain. I was happy to get the contract offer because I did not feel ready to compete at the Olympic trials at the time,” pointed out the Grammy Award winner.
“I was 19 when I went to New York to sing for Columbia Records. I had no idea what to do. I just went to the studio and sang. At first, they wanted me to be a jazz singer but I wasn’t really good at improvisation. Later, I was able to get the ear of Mitch Miller, who was the head of the single division. Miller saw me as a romantic singer and then I started putting out hit singles,” stated Johnny who has had a 60 year relationship with Columbia Records.
The holder of gold and platinum records, Mr. Mathis has sold over 350 million records throughout the world. He was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences worldwide, inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song for his duet entitled “The Last Time I Felt Like This.” Mr. Mathis has his own star in the Walk of Fame and was also inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.
Johnny celebrated his 50th anniversary as a recording star in 2006 releasing “Johnny Mathis – Gold: A 50th Anniversary Celebration” and “A 50th Christmas Celebration.” PBS taped his “Wonderful, Wonderful,” special and he received the Society of Singers coveted Ella Award.
“I’m looking forward to performing at Lehman Center. I was 19 when I first came to New York and back then the Bronx seemed so far away. However, now I will be able to see more of it,” remarked Johnny. “I am a private person, not a recluse exactly, but very respectful of the position music has put me in. So, I have been careful with my public persona. It’s important to be in the public eye, yet I must maintain a semblance of reality. Music is kind of a make believe world that one can get caught up in. Luckily my parents gave me a good foundation. I have taken unto me the qualities of the good people I’ve met within this business of music. It can be very difficult when you are shy to come in front of people with all their expectations. If you do not have a grasp or something to fall back on you can find yourself getting involved in drug use. I have gotten over my alcohol abuse, went to rehab and came out on the other side. Show business is a very difficult kind of life. You know your situation in the world but still try to please people. Sometimes you need people you can trust to help you focus on the things that really matter. If you are lucky enough, you learn to get back to fundamentals, so you can continue your career and avoid some of the pitfalls. People think they know who you are but you are the only person who knows the reality of who you are. If you can find a place within yourself wherein you are comfortable, only then can you be truly happy,” said the avid golfer.
Interested parties can hear more of my interview with Johnny Mathis’ via my “Topically Yours” radio program on Blakeradio.com, Rainbow Soul. For tickets: call the Lehman Center box office at 718-960-8833 or go online at LehmanCenter.org; take the #4 or D to the Bedford Park stop or via car use the Major Deegan Expressway or the Saw Mill River Parkway. Parking is free.
Deardra Shuler is a well published journalist who has profiled celebrities and written about people of note for many years. In addition to her column at EURweb.com, she is the host of her radio show “Topically Yours” on BlakeRadio.com and has shows featured on NPR via Initiative Radio. Ms. Shuler is featured in several papers. Her international column in Sweden,”Music Pastures” is available at http://soulinterviews.com. Interested parties can acquire info regarding Deardra through Writspirit.com, tagged.com, facebook and google.