Alum Johnny Mathis Has Touched Many Generations with Velvety Vocals, Radiant Persona

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

WAG -- There is only one Johnny Mathis. With a career that is now in its seventh decade, he has touched many generations with his velvety vocals and a radiant persona punctuated by — we can’t help but say it — “a certain smile.”

Born in Gilmer, Texas, and raised in San Francisco — the fourth of seven children — John Royce Mathis learned music and performance early from his musician-father, Clem Mathis. At George Washington High School and San Francisco State College (now University), he distinguished himself as much for his athletics as for his singing, once besting NBA legend Bill Russell in a high-jump meet.

He was invited to the 1956 Olympic trials in Melbourne, Australia. But around that time Mathis also had an opportunity to go to New York to cut his first record. With his father’s guidance, he chose music over sport, which led to impresario Mitch Miller, TV host Ed Sullivan and the Mathis we enjoy today.