Johnny Mathis was just like every other drop-dead handsome young singer in the late 1950s, with two exceptions. First, his voice was flawless perfection, a heartbreakingly sweet tenor, as smooth and tangy as molasses, with a vibrato that could turn young women’s knees to jelly. Second, while other idols were either coolly cruising the doo wop strip or charging down the rockabilly highway with their lips furiously curled, Mathis chose to follow Nat King Cole and company into the Elysian fields of jazz standards.
This was well and good, except that his debut album went pretty much unnoticed. Enter Columbia Records’ A&R man Mitch Miller (yes, the stylishly goateed gentleman of Sing Along… fame), who promptly remolded Mathis into a pop balladeer. Chances are, you know the rest. Through a combination of memorable melodies and themed albums, Johnny Mathis quickened the heartbeats of romantics everywhere. Songs like The Twelfth of Never, A Certain Smile, Misty, Maria, and Wonderful, Wonderfulbecame inextricably associated with the golden sound of his voice.
His appeal continued unabated over the decades, peaking again in the 70s with passionate duets like Too Much, Too Little, Too Late (performed with Deniece Williams), and continuing to the present day. Were it not for Mathis, tens of thousands… perhaps hundreds of thousands of declarations, proposals, marriages, and anniversaries over the past half century might have been lost in a cold and enormous silence. If he had followed his other dream and become an Olympic track champion, who would have brought these young lovers, whoever they are, together? It’s not for me to say. Fortunately, Johnny Mathis picked the road to romance, thus providing the perfect accompaniment to all our warmest, fuzziest moments.