We checked in with the legend, previewed his upcoming duet with Freda Payne, and remembered Christmases gone by. Mathis also shared his thoughts about the prospect of recording a Christmas duet with Mariah Carey!
Most would agree that 2020 has been a year that we’ll not soon forget. As we continue sheltering in place as much as we can, wearing masks when we can’t, and limiting get-togethers to those in our households, the phrase “home for the holidays” takes on new meaning this year.
That said, can you imagine a Christmas season without Johnny Mathis?
It sounds like something that the Grinch himself would have cooked up!
With COVID restrictions shuttering performance venues and concert halls nationwide, this will be the first holiday season in decades that Mathis won’t be thrilling fans with his seasonal favorites. Of course, we’ll always have his music, but there is nothing like experiencing Johnny Mathis live at Christmastime.
I decided that if never before, we NEED a little Christmas right now! So I called Mathis, just to check in on him. Luckily, I caught him just before he headed out for his second favorite pastime.
“I’m fine and in good health,” the 85 year old Mathis assured me, “which is a great thing for someone like me who sings all of the time. And I still have my inclination for golf, which I ALWAYS look forward to! It’s been a great getaway from EVERYTHING! It’s quite wonderful.”
“So that’s what I’ve been doing, answering the phone when it rings, and wondering who I’m gonna play golf with today!”
For those who enjoy Mathis’s dulcet tones, be not dismayed. He was giddy as he talked about his upcoming single, “You Can’t Take That Away From Me,” and the opportunity to revisit his jazz roots. The duet with Freda Payne (“Band Of Gold,” “Where The Boys Are”) is scheduled to be released on Payne’s label on December 4 — so we’ll get to hear new Mathis music this yuletide season after all!
The legend’s boyish exuberance and charm haven’t faded with time or the COVID cares of the day. He sounded great during our chat — and he even serenaded me with an impromptu chorus of “Friends In Love,” his 1982 hit with his “girlfriend” Dionne Warwick.
Yeah, he really did. Hand to God. And I almost passed out.
I wish I could brag that I had been Mathis’s muse that morning. He gloriously broke into song as he reflected on his decades-long love for Warwick and his upcoming December 12 appearance with her. Mathis recorded a new version of “White Christmas” that is scheduled to air during Warwick’s online event, in celebration of her 80th birthday and the holidays.
“We see each other and talk to each other all of the time,” Mathis warmly said of Warwick. “We love each other absolutely beyond music. She’s a wonderful, wonderful person…”
Don’t you just love how Mathis repeated the word “wonderful” there, echoing one of his beloved hits?
“…and I’m so grateful to have her in my life. I live maybe 10 minutes away from Dionne.”
Another famous neighbor of Mathis’s is yet another crooner for whom Christmas is more than just a passing fancy: Mariah Carey, thanks to her ubiquitous chestnut “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” As Carey’s fans consider her “The Queen Of Christmas,” I asked the holiday’s undisputed King to share his thoughts about “the elusive chanteuse.”
“She has a great voice,” Mathis said of Carey. “She’s a great musician. She’s everything that anyone would ever want.”
“And she’s pretty,” Mathis wryly chuckled.
I wondered whether Mathis would consider recording a Christmas duet with the “pretty” Carey, perhaps one that she’d write expressly for the duo?
“That’s the way things have happened for me,” Mathis reminisced. “Someone says ‘Hey, why don’t you try this?!’ We singers are always looking to share our little gifts that God gave us with each other. It’s usually just a matter of circumstances that keep us apart.”
“Hopefully, maybe Mariah and I will be singing together sometime. We live very close together, too. It could happen!”
You heard it here first! I’ve a message to Mimi and her Lambs: The King Of Christmas is waiting for a call. To echo one of Carey’s early hits, make it happen!
Like old pals who hadn’t spoken since the pandemic hit, Mathis and I casually chatted for awhile. I haven’t seen him since February, so it was good to hear that he’s doing well. Whenever we talk, he makes me feel like an old friend. Fans of his music, which dates back seven decades, know how he draws you in. There’s a reason that Mathis’s dozens of hits, from “Misty” to “The Twelfth Of Never” aren’t often covered by other artists. No one else could sing them as intimately as he does.
There’s also a reason why we all return to Mathis’s Christmas music each year. His sublime tone and delivery are warm, cozy reminders of days gone by. This year, more than any other in memory, a dose of Mathis’s holiday cheer is just what the doctor ordered.
As Mathis and I wrapped up what’s become our annual “fireside chat,” I asked him how he was spending the holidays this year, as he wouldn’t be able to do what he loves most: sing for his fans from stages the world over.
“I come from a large family, and so many of my brothers and sisters are gone now. There are three of us left,” Mathis wistfully said. “The holidays were always a big deal for us, being from such a large family. We always shared the holidays, and relished in the fact that we were together.”
“With them gone, I’m grateful to have so many wonderful friends that I’ve made over the years, though my music. So I’ll pick up the phone, and I’ll appreciate an opportunity to share the holiday season with them that way.”
“I do miss the wonderful audiences that I sing for. I love singing, and I love to surprise my audiences onstage,” Mathis said. “COVID has brought things like socializing and performing to a complete stop. Everyone is cloistered.”
Quickly, Mathis bounced back to the buoyant exuberance we’ve all come to love from him. With a twinkle in his eye that only St. Nick can rival, he chuckled:
“But I’ve still got my golf! Now let me get to that course, Mike! I’m outta here!”
But not before the man who’s been adored all over the world, since 1956, allowed this writer to have the ultimate holiday gift. Just four words to a living legend did it for me:
Happy Holidays, Johnny Mathis!