Johnny Mathis ready to celebrate decadeslong singing career July 27 in Rosemont
A while back, Johnny Mathis tried retirement. He rented an apartment at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, settled in and did nothing.
Six months later, the crooner -- known for such classics as "Misty," "Chances Are" and "Wonderful! Wonderful!" -- gave up and went back to what he loves best.
"I don't know why I did that," he said of the brief hiatus. "Sometimes a career like mine can overwhelm you."
Back to doing what he loves, he returns to the Rosemont Theatre Saturday, July 27, as part of his "Romance of Love" tour.
"The reason I do what I do is because I enjoy it," Mathis said in an interview.
This year marks 63 years in the music business for Mathis, a Texas native who as a young boy moved with his family to San Francisco. Mathis' father Clem, a former musician, taught his son songs and suggested he take voice lessons.
"That was the most important thing in my life," said Mathis, whose first voice instructor, Connie Cox, taught him for free. In exchange, he ran errands and did odd jobs.
He says Cox instilled in him the fundamentals that make it possible for him to still sing at age 83.
"You never get tired of singing," he said. "You get tired of traveling."
As a youngster, he sang in the church choir and performed in amateur talent shows. But Mathis possessed more than musical talent.
A star track and field athlete in high school, Mathis enrolled in what is now San Francisco State University in 1954 intending to become an English and physical education teacher. In September 1955 he began singing weekends at a club where a Columbia Records representative heard him. A few months later, in early 1956, Columbia invited him to record in New York around the same time he was asked to take part in the track and field trials for the U.S. Olympic team.
Mathis chose music, although he remains an avid golfer. And the rest is history.
A writer dubbed him the "voice of romance," a label the five-time Grammy Award nominee good-naturedly embraces.
What people write is their prerogative, he says. "I stopped worrying about it when I became more comfortable with myself as a person."
At one point in his decadeslong career, Mathis grew tired of singing hits "Chances Are" (his first No. 1 single) and "It's Not for Me to Say" and for several years declined to perform them.
"I was selfish," he said. "I didn't realize in my ignorance those are the songs people want to hear ... It was called to my attention by someone I respected and I saw the shortsightedness of my thinking and instantly changed it."
"I had to learn my lesson," said Mathis, who recognized his obligation as an entertainer is to please the audience. Still, he likes to experiment.
Like other singers, he spends a lot of time finding tunes that suit his temperament and talent. But the true test happens on stage. A number works or it doesn't, he said. If it doesn't, "you find out real fast and you never do it again," he said.
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Johnny Mathis "Voice of Romance Tour"
Where: Rosemont Theatre, 5400 N. River Road, Rosemont, (847) 671-5100 or rosemont.com
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, July 27