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Johnny Mathis Returns To Playhouse Square

Johnny Mathis Returns To Playhouse Square

The now-famous telegram read: "Have found phenomenal 19-year-old singer who could go all the way! Send contract." That telegram was sent by a Columbia Records executive. The teenage "singer" was none other than Johnny Mathis, and the year was Olympic year, one in which track and field star Mathis was supposed to compete in the Olympic trials.

The famous telegram intervened the same week as the Olympic trials were to be held, but, instead, Johnny headed to the New York recording studio, telling his parents he'd be back in three days. He was not to return for three years. Although he never made it to the Olympics, that first New York recording session produced the hit "Wonderful, Wonderful," which would launch a career and make him an "Olympian" of the music business.

A catalog of hits later, Johnny Mathis has become one of the few American pop music icons, with standing room only the norm for his concerts. One of Mathis' rare Cleveland appearances is set for Playhouse Square's KeyBank State Theatre, Sat., Nov. 2 at 8 pm for his "The Voice of Romance Tour." Late-comers to his performance learn they have missed part of his show! Johnny is one of the few performers who opens his own show, singing for 20 minutes, before introducing the show's comedian, Gary Mule Deer. Following intermission, Johnny returns to perform the rest of the concert.

The fourth of seven children, John Royce Mathis was born September 30, 1935 in Gilmer, Texas, but moved to San Francisco as a small child. His father, Clem, a former musician, discovered Johnny was the most eager of his brood to learn music. When Johnny was eight, Clem purchased an old upright piano for $25, but had to disassemble and reassemble the piano to get it through the door of their small basement apartment. Clem taught his son a variety of songs then took the 13-year-old to a voice teacher who agreed to teach the teen in exchange for Johnny performing add jobs around her house. His instruction lasted six years.

Meanwhile in high school Johnny became known not only for his singing but his athleticism in basketball and as a hurdler and high jumper. At San Francisco State College, Johnny set a high jump record at 6' 51/2", which remains on the College's Top 15 list to this day and was only 2" short of the Olympic record at that time. In the sports sections of the Northern California newspapers, Mathis was often referred to as "the best all-'round athlete to come out of the Bay area."

When Johnny finally made it to New York for his first recording session, Columbia Records placed him under the supervision of the famous Mitch Miller. In the fall of '56, Johnny recorded two singles that were to become two of his most popular all-time greatest hits: "Wonderful, Wonderful," and "It's Not For Me To Say." Both songs peaked in July 1957. They were followed by the monumental single "Chances Are," which became Johnny's first #1 hit.

According to record historian Joel Whitburn, Johnny is one of only five recording artists to have Top 40 hits spanning each of the four decades since 1955. Amazingly, with his long list of hits, his second #1 hit, "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late," came almost 21 years after that very first #1 single "Chances Are."

In 2004 Mathis recorded "Over The Rainbow" with Ray Charles on Ray's Genius Loves Company CD. Johnny was extremely honored that Ray requested that the song to be played at his memorial service. Mathis' first Christmas album is still one of the quintessential holiday albums to survive, along with one by the late Bing Crosby's.

These days when Mathis isn't in his recording studio or performing, you'll find him at his #1 hobby...golfing. In 2006, he celebrated his 50th anniversary as a recording artist.

Tickets for Johnny Mathis' Nov. 2nd concert at Playhouse Square's KeyBank State Theatre are $89.50, $75, $65, $50 & $35, on sale at the Playhouse Square Ticket Office; online at; or by phone at 216-241-6000.

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