John Royce Mathis, 30 September 1935, San Francisco, California, USA. In 1956, the 19-year-old Mathis was signed to Columbia Records where he began his career with a jazz-tinged album. A US Top 20 hit with Wonderful! Wonderful! saw him move adroitly towards the balladeer market, and before long he was a major concert attraction, with regular appearances on highly rated American television shows. In 1957, together with his first hit, Mathis was barely absent from the US bestseller lists, and that year had a further five hits, including the number 1 Chances Are, The Twelfth Of Never and Its Not For Me To Say. Mathis had become a phenomenon; his popularity at that time ranked alongside that of Frank Sinatra. By May 1958, he was scraping the UK charts with Teacher, Teacher, and soon established himself with major hits such as A Certain Smile, Winter Wonderland, Someone, Misty and My Love For You. His appeal to the adult market ensured spectacular album success, and Johnnys Greatest Hits stayed a record 490 weeks in the US chart.
With the beat boom and 60s pop explosion making it more difficult for visiting American balladeers to infiltrate the singles chart, Mathis concentrated increasingly on releasing albums. Indeed, he seemed willing to tackle a variety of concepts presented by his various producers and arrangers. Away From Home, produced by Norman Newell, saw the singer concentrating on the songs of European composers; Olé, the Latin-American outing, was sung in Portuguese and Spanish; Wonderful World Of Make Believe consisted entirely of songs based on fairytales; and there were tribute albums to such composers as Burt Bacharach and Bert Kaempfert. Meanwhile, Mathis was suffering from serious drug addiction, but fortunately he managed to kick the habit. By the late 60s, Mathis seemed equally adept at tackling MOR standards and John Lennon / Paul McCartney songs, as well as hoping to update his image. He returned to the UK singles chart in 1974 for the first time in a decade with Im Stone In Love With You and, two years later, secured the Christmas number 1 with When A Child Is Born. Back in the USA, he was still searching for new ideas and in April 1978, collaborated with Deniece Williams on Too Much, Too Little, Too Late. This, his first duet, became a surprise number 1, his first US chart-topper since 1957. Since then, Mathis has duetted incessantly with a list that includes Gladys Knight, Paulette McWilliams, Stephanie Lawrence, Jane Oliver, Dionne Warwick, Angela Bofill, Natalie Cole, Barbara Dickson and Nana Mouskouri. What has been overlooked is Mathis incredible commercial success: he is one of the most successful recording artists of all time, although behind Sinatra and Elvis Presley. His remarkable durability and unfailing professionalism demand admiration, quite apart from his incredibly distinctive voice.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.