Early Sunday evening, before an impressive lineup of musicians stepped onto the stage to pay tribute to Johnny Mathis, the legendary singer relaxed into a banquette at Herb Albert’s Vibrato Grill in Bel-Air and reflected on his 60-plus-year career, which he said started on a slow note.
“I got misdiagnosed when I was a kid,” said Mathis, “I was signed as a jazz singer, but I was never a jazz singer. But then I met Mitch Miller, (a 1950s pop music icon and recording company executive) who gave me music more up my alley. Then I was on my way.”
“Q & You: A ‘Wonderful, Wonderful’ Evening” honored Mathis, whose career has included three recordings in the Grammy Hall of Fame and dozens of gold or platinum albums, at a benefit Sunday for the Jazz Foundation of America. The Q in the event title stood for host Quincy Jones, and the “wonderful evening” included an award for Songwriters Hall of Famer Alan Bergman, a three-time Oscar winner for “The Way We Were,” “Windmills of Your Mind” and the score for “Yentl.”
Danny Glover of “Lethal Weapon” and Verdine White of “Earth, Wind & Fire” teamed up for the presentation to Mathis, watched by an audience that included Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss (the founders of A&M Records), CeeLo Green, Cedric the Entertainer, former Motown chair Clarence Avant, record producer Richard Perry and, from the Jazz Foundation, creative director Steve Jordan, co-executive director Joseph Petrucelli and co-founder Wendy Oxenhorn.
Alexis Morrast, Davell Crawford, Freddy Cole, Arnold McCuller and Deniece Williams took turns onstage, singing mostly Mathis classics, including “It’s Not for Me to Say,” “Chances Are,” “There! I’ve Said it Again” and “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late.” Bergman’s set also included songs written for Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand and a Norman Lear TV show, the latter a gender-reversal revision of Genesis.
“Johnny’s ‘Greatest Hits’ album changed the business of music,” said White during the official ceremonies, noting that the revolutionary album remained on the Billboard Top 100 charts for a “mind-boggling” 490 weeks. “An entire new way to consume music was invented around the idea of collecting 12 classic songs like ‘Come to Me’ and ‘All the Time’ and compiling them into one album,” he said.
“John became a superstar when Eisenhower was president, and he’s never looked back,” said Glover. “No one embodies the universal language of song more than Johnny, a singer whose work has always and continues to transcend race, gender, orientation and nationality, unifying disparate groups of people under the banner of harmony and love.”
Tickets for 135 guests in the sold-out, intimate venue ranged from $500 to $2,500, and an auction, in which lunch with Quincy Jones sold for $10,000 and lunch with Alan Bergman was sold to three different bidders, helped bring the total raised to $200,000. The foundation provides emergency funds, medical services and performance opportunities in the community to jazz and blues musicians in need.
Ellen Olivier is the founder of Society News LA.
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