Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Johnny Mathis

Openly gay singer Johnny Mathis was a star athlete at George Washington High School in San Francisco. He was a high jumper and hurdler, and played on the basketball team, earning four athletic letters. In 1954, he enrolled at San Francisco State University on a scholarship, intending to become an English and physical education teacher. That year he broke the college high jump record by successfully clearing 6-ft. 5-inches; at the time only four Olympic athletes had managed to jump that height. But Mathis had other talents, as well.

His father had worked in vaudeville, and when he recognized his son's dancing and singing abilities, he bought an old upright piano for $25 and encouraged his efforts. Mathis began learning songs and routines from his father, such as the popular song "My Blue Heaven." Mathis soon began singing and dancing for visitors at home, school and for church functions. When Mathis was thirteen, Connie Cox, a voice teacher, accepted him as her student in exchange for his work around her house. He studied with her for six years, learning vocal scales and exercises, voice production, classical and operatic skills. Mathis is one of the few popular singers who received years of professional voice training that included opera.

In 1955, Mathis landed a job singing weekends at Ann Dee's 440 Club. Jazz producer George Avakian came to hear him sing, and subsequently sent a telegram to Columbia Records noting: “Have found phenomenal 19-year old boy who could go all the way. Send blank contracts.”

At San Francisco State, Mathis had gained fame as a high jumper, and in early 1956 he had been asked to attend the trials for the 1956 Olympic teams that would travel to Melbourne, Australia that summer. Mathis had to decide whether to go to the Olympic tryouts or to keep an appointment in New York to make his first recordings, which were subsequently released in 1956. With his father's blessings, Mathis opted for a recording career. To date Johnny Mathis has sold 350 million records worldwide, most of them romantic ballads delivered with a somewhat breathy, tremulous tenor voice. His extraordinary singing career has spanned 55 years.

His career took off immediately, and by 1958 he had already released a “Greatest Hits” album, the first ever of that genre. He was one of the first African-American pop singers to gain wide acceptance with white audiences in America.

In the mid 1960s Mathis purchased a mansion in the Hollywood Hills that was originally built by billionaire Howard Hughes in 1946. Later owned by hotel owner Hyatt R. Von Dehn and oilman Robert Calhoun, that house is where Mathis still maintains his residence.

The 1981 release of his 25th Anniversary Album, a double LP, spent an unprecedented 491 consecutive weeks – nine and a half years – on the Billboard top 100 album charts, earning him a place in the Guinness Book of World Records . He has had five of his albums on the Billboard charts simultaneously, an achievement equaled by only Frank Sinatra and Barry Manilow. Mathis is the 3rd most successful recording artist in the USA.

In a 1982 Us Magazine article, Mathis was quoted as saying, "Homosexuality is a way of life that I've grown accustomed to." Mathis later revealed in a 2006 interview that he received death threats as a result of that 1982 article. In the early 1990s, a group of gay rights activists were planning to “out” Johnny Mathis, when they discovered that he had already revealed his homosexuality in that 1982 Us Magazine article.

Mathis continues to record and performs live today, at the age of 76. His most recent album is Let It Be Me: Mathis in Nashville, released 14 months ago.


In this video, out gay saxophonist Dave Koz tells the story of the ballad, The Shadow of Your Smile, from the 1965 film The Sandpiper, starring Elizabeth Taylor. Then he and Mathis perform a duet version, which appeared on At the Movies, a huge hit album for Koz in 2007. The voice of Johnny Mathis is in amazingly good form, considering that he is nearly 30 years older than Koz, now 48. Listen for trumpeter Chris Botti, who performs in the background, without appearing in the video. Update: Dave Koz today earned his seventh Grammy nomination  in the category of Best Pop Instrumental Album for his album Hello Tomorrow.

10 comments:

  1. WOW!!!!! Nothing else to say - just WOW!!!! That is what a great voice is supposed to sound like!!! And he has been doing it for over 50 years!!!! WOW!!!!

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  2. Johnny Mathis is the quintessential
    ballad singer.
    His range and depth of breathing,
    obviously operatic skills, are without
    peer, amongst a back drop of pure
    artistic conviction,
    when Mathis sings...we are ALL
    taken in, completely.

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  3. When I was in my teens, I had a major crush on Johnny Mathis. I thought he were so handsome and sang so beautifully. I came across this video of Dave Koz (who I also love) and Mr. Mathis and it brought me to tears. I love the saxaphone and I still love the voice of Johnny Mathis. What a perfect blend...Wow!!!

    PS...I still have the autographed picture of Johnny Mathis, that I wrote to his fan club for many years ago and even though people say it's wasn't really signed by him, I don't care...I still take it out to look at it every once in awhile and smile.

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  4. I can't believe he is 76. He doesn't look a day over 60. I would like to know what he is doing to retain his youthful appearance and sound. His posture and gate is that of a much, much younger man. He seems to have discovered the fountain of youth!

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  5. Always has been and always will be my favorite singer of love songs that touch my heart and soul and bring back memories of my teen loves as we danced and kissed to Johnny Mathis albums. Those were the days.

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  6. Yesterday evening, I saw Mr. Mathis in concert. He was fabulous!

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  7. Last evening, I saw Mr. Mathis perform. He was fabulous!

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  8. Yesterday I went to Johnny Mathis' concert at NJPAC - words cannot describe how "wonderful, wonderful" he sounded and looked.

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  9. Amazingly beautiful!!!Gave me chills!

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  10. I am 74 years old I fell in love with Johnny's voice, when I was a teen, I still love him today, got a lot of his music.

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