It’s a story that matured a dozen years later. Friday afternoon at Primm at Buffalo Bill’s Star of the Desert Arena. A full orchestra was on stage for the soundcheck, marking time and preparing the headliner for that evening.
The room was silent for a few whispers and light laughs. A few notes, a cough here and there. Some of these musicians dated back to the days of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. in Vegas. Some had also supported superstars such as Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Luciano Pavarotti, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé.
It was not their first concert, by far. This group was not easily impressed or moved.
Then Johnny Mathis came out. Seasoned musicians applauded, even trying to be cool. Sniffles were heard, tears flowed from faces. The great singer had made people cry without even singing a note.
A few days ago, Mathis listened to this story again. He chuckled at the story.
“Music does amazing things to people, absolutely,” said Mathis, returning to Las Vegas at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Reynolds Hall at the Smith Center. “Over the years, I have found this to be very true. It really touches our hearts.
Especially when you’re Johnny Mathis.
Mathis’ path to stardom is a tale for all time. He was a star athlete in high school and at the University of San Francisco. Coaches viewed Mathis as a potential Olympic gold medal hopeful as a hurdler and high jumper (NBA great Bill Russell, also from San Francisco, was one of the few athletes in Mathis’ class as a as a high jumper).
Mathis had the option of attending the 1956 Olympic Trials or pursuing a singing career by making an album in New York. He chose the latter, of course, by signing with Columbia Records. That voice we know so well was also the gold standard.
“I grew up in a big family, we didn’t really have any money, so I played a lot of sports,” Mathis said. “I had a lot of free time. I also started singing as a teenager and really loved doing it.
Mathis was taken to new heights by the music he heard.
“There were singers I admired so much, like Lena Horne,” Mathis said. “Not only was she beautiful, but her musical ability was amazing. She sang songs that no one has ever heard, they seemed to be esoteric, but they were wonderful.
Mathis does not bow to the obvious for his first musical influences.
“There was another lady, Mabel Mercer, who had no voice, but was one of the best singers in the world, ”said Mathis. “How do you explain that (laughs)? She spoke about her songs as well as anyone who sang them. I was very lucky when I was young to live in New York and listen to Mabel and watch her performances. I learned a lot about how to convey messages by singing.
For statistical evidence of Mathis’ impact on contemporary music, he released 34 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts, and a staggering 74 albums on the Billboard 200 charts. The “Wonderful, Wonderful” of 1956 was her first hit, leading to a series of classics, including “It’s Not For Me To Say”, “Chances Are”, “Misty”, “The Twelfth of Never” and “Too Much, Too Little,” Too Late “in duet with Deniece Williams.
Another career spike is “Johnny’s Greatest Hits” of 1958 (barely two years into Mathis’ recording career), which spent nearly 10 years on the Billboard 200 chart, a record that has held up to being. surpassed by “Dark Side of the Moon” by Pink Floyd. in 1983. A Christmas favorite, “Merry Christmas”, also released in ’58, reached multi-platinum status 22 years ago and remains a holiday favorite.
This year marks Mathis’ 65th birthday as a recording artist. He has had Top 40 success in every decade since the 1950s. His Billboard album sales rank 6th all-time.
Mathis has a long history in Las Vegas, dating back to the early days of the Sands in 1955. The hotel’s entertainment director, Jack Entratter, was friends with Horne. The star headliner brought in Mathis, starting a run in Vegas that led to appearances at the Sahara, Riviera, Flamingo, Dunes, Caesars Palace and Las Vegas Hilton. “Johnny Mathis in Person: Recorded Live at Las Vegas” was recorded at Caesars’ Circus Maximus in 1971.
“What impressed me from the start in Las Vegas was the attention people paid to my singing, to my performances, because they had so many other distractions,” Mathis said. “As a singer, from a young age, most of my singing was done in concert. I had to get used to singing in these casinos, holding the audience, because they were thinking of something other than my singing. Fortunately, things have improved. “
Mathis is 86 years old which is amazing on so many levels, especially by the sheer strength of his speaking voice. He is asked frequently, and again, how he does it.
“Someone told me about a thousand years ago, the best thing you can do as a singer is to keep yourself in shape,” Mathis said. “I loved golf, I played golf with a lot of people who were physical educators. That was about 30, 40 years ago. I started going to the gym and then hitting the golf ball.
“I always do, I wake up at 4 am, go to the gym at 5 am and do my exercises. This is how I start my day.
Mathis displayed a playful sense of humor in the December 2020 release, “I Completely Lost My Sense of Time,” under a collective called Randy Waldman Superheroes. Martin Short, Bill Burr, Ray Romano, Robert Davi and Norman Lear also sing to the perky parody tune of the pandemic.
But Mathis himself is puzzled as to how he was able to hold on to his youth.
“I keep saying, ‘I wonder how old I am,'” he laughed. “People ask me how old I am, and I don’t know! I say, ‘I’m 80 and over! I don’t think I’m 90 yet! ‘ But I was born in 1935, I can tell you that. It’s documented.
Mathis said he was quite simply ready to get back to his great family of musicians.
“I love to sing the recordings I have made over the years and play them back in person,” said the legendary artist. “It’s a really big kick for the crowd, I think. It’s a big kick for me too, and everyone on stage.
John Katsilometes’ column is published daily in section A. His “PodKats! podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at [email protected] To follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @ JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.