I made it a point to go to Borders Book Store in West Los Angeles last week. I had read in the L.A. Times that Johnny Mathis would be there to sign his new DVD, so I thought I might be able to do a little catching up. Fifty years to be exact. Having just turned twenty and under the legal age to drink alcohol in New Jersey, I was the house Stage Manager at the Latin Casino Theatre Restaurant in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. It was a gigantic venue, perhaps the largest nightclub on the Eastern seaboard.
Johnny Mathis performed there at the height of his career. “That magical voice singing “Chances Are,” “Misty,” “The twelfth of Never,” “Wonderful, Wonderful,” with a large orchestra under the musical direction of Allyn Ferguson, still echos in my ears. Over the course of his career, Ferguson also served as musical director for Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme and Julie Andrews. Sadly he passed away on June 23rd of this year.
Mathis began performing at the Blackhawk nightclub in San Francisco in 1955 with a sextet led by Virgil Gonsalves, a local baritone saxophone player. The co-owners of the club, John & Helen Noga, were so excited about this talented your black man that they became his managers and the rest is history.
Meanwhile, back at Borders a crowd of about three hundred people were in line waiting to meet Johnny Mathis.
I decided to wait until after the DVD signing to introduce myself to him. By then, Johnny was tired from signing autographs, posing for pictures and glad handing his fans. I told him we worked to get at the Latin Casino fifty years ago, he seemed to remember, a glimmer of recognition as he shook my hand and smiled, then he was whisked away by his handlers. I’m glad I went to Borders last week, because another fifty years is just too long to wait to see him again.
Happy birthday Johnny!