Voice of romance: Johnny Mathis returns to Chautauqua’s Amp with catalogue of iconic songs



There aren’t many people like Johnny Mathis. Period. Even Barbra Streisand said so — “there are a number of good singers, a smaller handful of truly great singers, and then there’s Johnny Mathis.”

At a track meet at The University of Nevada, Reno, in 1955, Mathis jumped 6 feet, 5 and a half inches, beating future NBA star Bill Russell’s former record. He was supposed to leave to compete in the Olympic Game Trials, but in the same week, Columbia Records offered Mathis a recording contract, and from there, he hasn’t stopped touring and recording for 65 years. 

“I don’t think about retiring,” said Mathis in a press release for his “Voice of Romance: The Columbia Original Album Collection” box set. “I think about how I can keep singing for the rest of my life. I just have to pace myself.”

A year after his contract offer, in June 1957, Mathis appeared on the popular “The Ed Sullivan Show,” where he gained international fame. His Johnny’s Greatest Hits album was the first of its kind, and the collection placed on the Billboard Top 100 Albums chart for an unprecedented 490 weeks — almost 10 years. 

“Johnny Mathis is a true pioneer,” said Deborah Sunya Moore, senior vice president and chief program officer (interim) and vice president of performing and visual arts. “I am proud that his voice and songs will resonate in the Amphitheater again. … His music was the soundtrack for so many people’s lives, and I hope that many audience members find joy in these memories.”

At 8:15 pm Friday, July 23 in the Amp, Mathis will perform as part of his 2021 tour, “Johnny Mathis: 65 Years of Romance.” His most recent album, Johnny Mathis Sings The Great New American Songbook, includes songs from “Hallelujah,” by Leonard Cohen, to “Hello,” by Adele, and “Just The Way You Are,” by Bruno Mars. 

“But he is not only a historic figure,” Moore said, “he is a current artist who recorded an album recently and covered contemporary favorites that younger audience members might feel is a more current soundtrack for their lives. ‘Chances Are’ everyone will find something to love in this concert.”

Mathis’ songs have appeared in many TV shows, including “Mad Men,” “Goodfellas” and the series finale of “Desperate Housewives.” Mathis himself has appeared on shows such as “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “The Muppet Show,” “The Simpsons,” and “Criminal Minds.”

Often referred to as “The Voice of Music,” Mathis is also a gourmet chef — his parents taught him to cook from a young age; and when Mathis was 8, his father bought an old piano for $25, but it wouldn’t fit through their door. 

So, a young Mathis, the fourth of seven children, stayed up to watch his father dismantle the large instrument, move the pieces into the living room and reassemble it. In his small living room in Texas, Mathis learned to appreciate music, learning “My Blue Heaven” by Walter Donaldson as his first song.

“I’ve never done anything by myself,” Mathis said in an interview with Variety. “It’s always been in tandem with others. I’ve been so lucky that people have always been drawn to my talent and wanted to help me. It was always through the kindness of others that I succeeded.”

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The author Nick Danlag

This is Nick Danlag’s second season at the Daily reporting the morning lecture recap. He worked remotely last year but loved waking up each day in Las Vegas to learn more about Chautauqua through his reporting. From Mount Laurel, New Jersey, Nick earned a creative writing degree from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. As editor-in-chief of his student newspaper, The Current, he loved helping the staff develop their voices.