Mathis, the longest-running recording artist in the history of Columbia Records, has consistently toured and recorded for 65 years, which made the aforementioned postponement a huge departure from the norm. Even so, he says he valued the stillness of the pandemic by continuing to grow as an artist, while also anticipating what performing again would look like.
“I sort of busied myself trying to learn a few new songs and other things, including taking golf lessons to improve my golf game, but I can tell you I am very happy to be going back to work,” said Mathis in a recent telephone interview. “Believe me, I’ve never had this much time off without performing. I’ve traveled all over the world from the time I was very young, and because of some of the places I had to go like Brazil, Germany and France, I had to learn songs in different languages, which was always fun. But this time around, I’ve learned the languages and done all of that so I’m focused on where I’m going to perform and wondering what songs the audience would like for me to sing. Hopefully, I will choose the right songs, the ones the public will enjoy. I also love to have just a little bit of a surprise, vocally. Audiences seem to appreciate it. I’ve been singing some of these songs for a long time so it’s fun to shake it up a bit sometimes.”
Looking back on his esteemed career, Mathis, who grew up in San Francisco and received classical vocal training, is grateful to have been able to seek the guidance of numerous legends who paved the way for him. Those luminaries include Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and Lena Horne.
“I got an opportunity to meet these outstanding singers that I admired since I was a little kid and gain insight, especially how they prepared as vocalists,” he said. “And as far as singing is concerned, for the past 30 years I go to the gym every morning for an hour of exercise, which keeps me physically fit, even vocally. The whole idea is to try to maintain your God-given ability, physically and mentally. Singing is a very physical act. If you feel good and if you’re strong enough you can support your tones. But if your muscles aren’t in order, you’re going to sound timid to say the least.”
Mathis has also notably performed duets which such illustrious artists as Barbra Streisand, Deniece Williams, Gladys Knight, Natalie Cole and Dionne Warwick to name a few. In fact, Streisand, whose “I Have a Love/One Hand, One Heart” duet with Mathis is an outstanding highlight of her 1993 “Back to Broadway” album, is quoted as saying, “There are a number of good singers, a smaller, handful of truly great singers, and then there’s Johnny Mathis.” He considers the lasting friendships built from these musical partnerships among his crowning achievements.
“I’m most proud of my associations with the people I consider my contemporaries in the music business,” he said. “My girlfriends I’ve recorded with over the years that I love, including Barbra Streisand and Dionne Warwick, are wonderful, God-gifted singers and performers. Just embracing them as friends and enjoying their friendships and getting to perform with them is what I think about and keeps me excited. Although some of my wonderful, iconic vocal heroes are no longer with us, such as Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, I still have those memories of meeting them and telling them how much I love their singing and even learning from them by listening to them sing. These memories keep me excited about the next performance.”
At the Schuster Center, Mathis promises an evening of great music and fun within a spirit of thankfulness.
“I want the audience to take away the fact that we are all still here — all of us,” he said. “I’m excited to perform and thank goodness I still have my enthusiasm about my music. I have a wonderful group of musicians who travel with me as well.”
And in case you’re wondering, retirement is not among his priorities.
“I don’t think about retiring. I think about how I can keep singing for the rest of my life. I just have to pace myself.”
HOW TO GO
What: Dayton Live presents Johnny Mathis: “65 Years of Romance” Tour
Where: Schuster Center, Second and Main Streets
When: Thursday, Aug. 26; 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: Call (937) 228-3630 or visit daytonlive.org