Photo credit: Keith Castillo

EXCLUSIVE! Johnny Mathis Releases New Christmas EP, Hits The Road With Holiday Shows

By Michael P Coleman

Words like “legend” get bandied about a lot these days, oft times referencing artists that don’t stand the test of time.

Then, there’s Johnny Mathis, who’s proven time and again that the descriptor is apt. He started recording and touring the world in 1956, and worked continuously until a pesky global pandemic forced him to take a very well-deserved break.

Mathis is back on the road, and prepping for an annual pause in his The Voice Of Romance tour for a handful of Christmas concerts in California, Michigan, and Ohio.

MATHIS’ CHRISTMAS CONNECTION

If you’re just getting your 2022 holiday planning underway, and if you doubt Mathis’ connection to Christmas, consider this: the man has already started booking Christmas shows for 2023!

With his having released his first yuletide album, the multi-platinum “Merry Christmas,” in 1958, and with the subsequent release of five more full-length Christmas albums, and a new EP this season, “A Merry Little Christmas,” I’ve often wondered where his zeal for Christmas tunes came from.

“I have six brothers and sisters, and we were just fundamental, ‘low on the totem pole’ kind of people,” Mathis recently told me by phone. “We didn’t have any money. So Christmas was a BIG DEAL, because everything was free. There was music in the air, people would bring you presents and gifts and things like that. Enjoying Christmas is still, to me, one of the great moments in my life.”

Having watched many of Mathis’ contemporaries come and go over the decades, I asked him how he, at 87 years old, has maintained his puckish enthusiasm for his job. He’s been at it, after all, for 66 years, in a world where many work for 30 years while they watch the months and years amble by, accept a figurative gold watch, and shuffle off into the sunset of retirement.

“I wonder about that,” Mathis said. “I still have performances to do all over the place, and fortunately my voice has held out. As long as I’m singing, it doesn’t matter in what capacity, whether it’s recording or in person. I’m still hale and hearty, and I still love to sing!”

A MATHIS HOLIDAY CONCERT

During a Mathis Christmas concert, his beautiful tenor still melts the iciest of hearts, on time-worn chestnuts like “White Christmas,” “Silent Night,” and “Silver Bells,” along with newer classics like “Sending You A Little Christmas” and “A Child Is Born.” And he manages to sneak in some of his fans’ all-time pop favorites, like “Misty” and “Chances Are.”

I can’t think of a better Christmas gift — to yourself or someone you love — than a ticket to one of Mathis’ holiday shows. Prepare for your heart to grow three times larger by the time he’s done with his final encore and the lights go up.

Mathis’ often sold-out holiday concerts are so highly anticipated that he’s often referred to as “The Voice Of Christmas,” standing in for St. Nicholas himself on concert stages all over the world. As he always speaks so warmly of his relationships with his parents (“My mom and my dad were my best pals,” he said), I wondered what they must have thought of that moniker being bestowed on one of their kids.

Photo credit: Rick Bartalini & Pacific Dream Photography

“It’s the most flattering thing that could have ever happened to me.” Mathis earnestly shared. “I sing because my dad sang. He was as good a singer as I’ve heard in the world, and yet no body ever heard him except us.”

“Before they passed away, my mom and my dad got [to enjoy] all of the accolades that go along with having your son be a popular singer in the world,” Mathis continued. “That, to me, is the most gratifying thing that’s happened in my career, that my parents lived long enough to enjoy my success as a singer.”

With a voice like Mathis’, his success on the charts and on stages around the world, and his staying power, isn’t surprising. While many of us may catch ourselves singing in the shower from time to time, often to the chagrin of those with whom we share a home, I imagined that Mathis warbled around his house all of the time.

Not so!

“I never sing at home,” Mathis laughed. “I have so many other interests!”

MATHIS’ CHRISTMAS COOKING

Faithful Mathis fans know of the singer’s love for the golf course and cooking, so with his holiday concert schedule keeping him on the road until December 23 this year, I asked him what would be going on with him for the holidays, after he rushes home, just in time for Santa’s arrival.

“It will be very, very low key,” Mathis assured. “When I’m not traveling and singing, my home life is all about no talking and no singing. I go to the gym in the morning, come back, and cook. My mom and dad made their living cooking, and I’m a good cook.”

So then, the obvious follow-up question: what is Johnny Mathis cooking up for the holidays? (I resisted asking him whether I could impose by stopping by for a plate!)

“I spend a lot of time cooking…but it’s so fundamental for me that I can’t even explain what I eat. I have to perform in front of people, so I spend a lot of time trying to cook for me — and not get FAT,” he laughed.

Isn’t it good to know that the struggle is real even for Johnny Mathis?

“I eat out VERY occasionally, about once or twice a year, if you can imagine that,” Mathis continued. “Restaurants don’t interest me at all, because they have their own way of cooking, and I have my own way of cooking, and the two don’t match!”

“THE VOICE OF CHRISTMAS” ON TRADEMARKING “QUEEN OF CHRISTMAS”

Before we had to (Christmas) wrap up, I asked Mathis for his thoughts about online criticism of a certain pop diva who recently tried to trademark the term “Queen Of Christmas.” It’s been reported that she planned on using the term to market everything from a fragrance line to dog leashes.

Might “The Voice Of Christmas” himself have a thought or two about that?

“I embrace everybody,” Mathis said, through peals of laughter that left both of our bellies shaking like bowls full of jelly. “Everybody sings the songs and embraces Christmas because they love doing it, and you can’t put them down for that. If they become famous with it, or if they don’t become famous with it, I embrace it.”

“MERRY CHRISTMAS, JOHNNY MATHIS!”

Just as he does during his Christmas performances, Mathis managed during our chat to tap into the kid in me. I found myself more excited about Christmas coming than I’ve been in years, perhaps since my own children had to be coaxed into bed on Christmas Eve.

As both Mathis and I had trees to trim and dinners to prep, we bid goodbye with the most timeworn of seasons greetings. I got my Christmas gift this year when I got to say “Merry Christmas, Johnny Mathis.”

“Bless your heart,” my surrogate Santa told me. “Merry Christmas to you, too, Mike! I’ll see you next month!”

Photo courtesy of Coleman Communications

Hope to see you, too, at one of Mathis’ Christmas concerts this season!

For information and tickets to one of Johnny Mathis’ 2022 Christmas shows, and upcoming dates on his “The Voice Of Romance” tour, go to johnnymathis.com.

Michael P Coleman is a Sacramento-based freelance writer who sometimes tries to hide his love for all things Mathis. He worries that he fell short of that with this feature. Reach out to him and tell him you forgive him at michaelpcoleman.com

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