The holidays would not be the same without Johnny Mathis, who has recorded no less than six Christmas albums during his 62 years as a singer — from 1958’s “Merry Christmas” to 2013’s “Sending You a Little Christmas.”
“Christmas for me is the most enjoyable aspect of what I do,” Mathis said.
“My parents didn’t make much money, but they always found a way to make Christmas special for me and my six brothers and sisters. And I’m happy to give the Christmas spirit I’ve felt growing up to the people who come hear me sing.”
The Texas-born, San Francisco-raised Mathis has turned recording into a marathon: 73 albums (18 going gold and 10 more platinum), 27 compilations (five gold) and three “live” albums, pushing his total output past 100.
Not bad for someone who almost turned his back on his recording career before it ever started — for sports.
“Yeah, I had some success as an athlete,” said Mathis, 83, who was in college on an athletic scholarship, intending on a physical-education and English teaching career.
But he soon had to choose between trying out for a spot on the Olympic track and field team — his event was the high jump — and answering an invite from Columbia Records to his first recording session. The then-20-year-old made his decision.
“My time in sports was enjoyable, but it was merely one aspect of my personality,” he said. “I still do an exercise routine with an instructor five days a week for the last 50 years. And I have wonderful memories of my time as an athlete.”
Speaking of “wonderful,” it’s really hard to say what is Mathis’ “signature tune,” having had so many hits (such as “Wonderful! Wonderful!”) to choose from as he prepared to perform at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa on Dec. 9.
“I’d think: ‘What would people like to hear?’ ” Mathis said. “I’d remind myself: ‘The audience came to hear you. So while you may sometimes get tired of the same songs, they’re not. Familiarity is very important to them, to those who come to hear you sing.’ But I also get to sing what I like. It’s a lot of fun to introduce music to audiences, music I’ve heard from all over the world. It makes for a nice balance.”
So when does Mathis intend to retire?
“Never!” came the emphatic reply, followed by a laugh. “They’ll have to carry me away!”
Michael Rydzynski is a contributor to Times Community News.
IF YOU GO
Who: Johnny Mathis
What: “Johnny Mathis Christmas Concert”
When: Segerstrom Hall Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
Where: 7 p.m. Sunday
Cost: Starting at $79
Information: (714) 556-2727; scfta.org