No one can sing a love song like Johnny Mathis. The legendary vocalist—whose career spans more than 60 years, 70 albums, 200 singles and three separate inductions into the Grammy Awards Hall of Fame—is best known for his silky-smooth vibrato, which can be heard on his chart-topping recordings of romantic hits such as “Chances Are,” “Misty,” “It’s Not For Me To Say” and others he will perform live in a special Valentine’s concert on Sunday, Feb. 16, in San Rafael.
“I had a wonderful voice teacher,” Mathis says. “And she just said, ‘You seem to be suited, the sound of your voice, to sing songs like ‘My Funny Valentine.’ I guess also it’s a matter of my temperament that comes through with the songs that I sing. I think we all have elements of our personality that come out in different situations, and yes, without bragging, I’m kind of romantic.”
Mathis grew up in San Francisco, and learned to sing from his father.
“I was very lucky when I was a kid; my dad was my best pal, I spent a lot of time with him listening to him sing,” Mathis says. “He loved it, and I think I’ve got that kind of attitude from him. I love to sing and I’ve been very lucky to meet along the way some wonderful people.”
With a career that began at age 18 and has spanned thousands of recordings, the 84-year-old Mathis is still under contract with Columbia Records. He released his latest studio album, Johnny Mathis Sings the Great New American Songbook, in 2017, and his other recent releases include a country album recorded in Nashville and several albums of romantic standards and Christmas songs.
“I’m sure they are ready for me to do something,” he says about Columbia. “The hardest part is finding an innovative type of music that the public will listen to.”
Mathis’ musical catalogue also spans Brazilian and Spanish pop songs, R&B, soul and blues; and his non-English language music is inspired as much by his travels across the world as by his childhood living in the melting pot of San Francisco, to which he still feels connected.
“It’s a wonderful place,” he says. “It’s really my favorite city in the world.”