SACRAMENTO BEE -- Mathis’ 61st year in show business also includes a release later this fall of Johnny Mathis: The Voice of Romance — The Columbia Original Album Collection, which gathers 68 remastered albums and unreleased archival material into one hefty box set.
A recent phone interview with the affable, soft-spoken crooner and avid golfer touched upon as many personal and societal watersheds as musical milestones. He broke high-jump records in the 1950s competing against his rival, future basketball legend Bill Russell, while Mathis was a San Francisco State College student. He overcame drug and alcohol addictions, and sang for American presidents and European royalty. And he received death threats after his gay lifestyle was addressed in a 1982 Us Weekly interview.
Mathis as an early teen watched some of his heroes perform in San Francisco jazz clubs. “The Blackhawk was the best one,” he said. “My dad would take me in the afternoon when the performers were rehearsing. We would stand in the back by the bar and as long as my dad was with me they would let me in. He found a way so that I could hear some people who I had records by, and all of them eventually, Erroll Gardner, you name it, Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billy Eckstine, everybody went through that little jazz club.”
Image: Courtesy of Columbia Records