Alum Johnny Mathis on Gay Rights: 'People Are Stubborn; There's a Waiting Period Until They Catch'

Thursday, December 15, 2016
BILLBOARD -- A native of Texas, raised in California and the fourth of seven children, Mathis caught his father’s passion for music at a young age. He began vocal lessons, including classical and operatic styles, at age 13. Yet, in high school, he also was talented enough at track and field to get an athletic scholarship to San Francisco State University and, later, an invitation to try out for the U.S. team heading to the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. Around that same time, however, while performing at a San Francisco nightclub, Mathis caught the ear of George Avakian, head of jazz A&R at Columbia Records, who was vacationing in the city. “Have found phenomenal 19-year-old boy who could go all the way,” Avakian telegrammed his label. “Send blank contracts.”