Sixty-three years of performing some of the best romantic music ever written have hardly slowed down legendary crooner Johnny Mathis, who delighted the audience at Wolftrap on June 15.
At 83, Mathis holds the record as Columbia Records’ longest signed artist and the dapper, classy pop singer showed why he still is one of the best singers in the world. Although Mathis has been singing some of the same songs for years, his approach to pop music surpasses ordinary fads and trends. From music composed for stage and film to golden era jazz standards and contemporary pop hits, Mathis is a master of a variety of styles and categories.
At Wolftrap, Mathis, whose given name is John Royce Mathis, walked out on stage with little hype and fanfare and immediately drew thunderous applause. It was obvious that a lovefest was about to begin. As shouts of “We love you Johnny!” filled the air, the silky-voiced tenor began a set of over 25 songs that that were nearly flawless in their delivery.
The only evidence of the singer’s age showed when he stopped to introduce a member of his band and pointed out the length of years that particular musician had performed with him.
The longest length of time announced was 37 years, which caused Mathis to become emotional. The artist became sadder when he revealed that his long-time guitarist Gil Reigers, who had accompanied him for over 48 years, was absent due to being ill.
Nevertheless, Mathis can still knock the ball out of the park as when he kicked off the evening with the hugely popular “When I Fall in Love,” a song that he said defines him as an artist. Announcing that it was his 89th time performing at Wolftrap’s Filene Center, the singer caressed each note like a lover before moving into “Chances Are,” “Gina” and “I’m on the Outside Looking In.” On “Shenandoah,” his timing was perfect, and “Let It Be Me” was ably backed by a superb orchestra, directed by Mathis’ long-time conductor and pianist, John Scott Lavender.
Mathis paid tribute to his friend and Hollywood neighbor, Henry Mancini, with a medley of hits, including “Charade,” “Days of Wine” and Roses,” and an audience favorite “Moon River.” The Grammy Hall of Famer exuded a boyish appeal as he held his heart in gratitude while the audience gave another of the night’s many standing ovations.
Those familiar with Mathis’ history know that he was a successful track-and-field athlete and was offered a chance to compete in the 1956 U.S. Olympic Trials in Melbourne, Australia. On the advice of his father, who had performed in vaudeville, he opted to embark on a professional singing career. His early athleticism seemed to have paid off. The singer never sat down the entire first set, working the stage deftly from one side to the other. After about 90 minutes, comedian Brad Upton took the stage for intermission to deliver a thoroughly funny and comic routine.
Upton’s jokes about today’s youth being addicted to their cell phones and other technology went over well with the mature crowd. They were able to keep everyone entertained before Mathis returned to sing another hour of glorious, memorable songs.
The singer changed from a casual Hawaiian-style shirt to a svelte suit and white shirt. Basked in the stage lights, he became the epitome of charm and class.
The soulful “All Alone Am I” and “Betcha By Golly Wow” was beautifully rendered, with Mathis’ enunciation spot on as his lush voice drifted off into the summer night. When Mathis performed the classic “Misty,” he garnered another standing ovation from the admiring crowd that lapped up every note as cellphones shamelessly videotaped the charismatic icon.
“The Twelfth of Never” was another crowd pleaser, as were the Latin-flavored “Brazil” and “To the Ends of the Earth,” where the singer showed off his ability to swing.
Mathis ended the show with “Let the Good Times Roll,” a rocking ending to a terrific evening. People could be heard saying that the legendary singer still has it, proving he is still is one of the most endearing artists in the world.