DAILY HERALD (ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, ILLINOIS) -- This year marks 63 years in the music business for Mathis, a Texas native who as a young boy moved with his family to San Francisco. Mathis’ father Clem, a former musician, taught his son songs and suggested he take voice lessons.
“That was the most important thing in my life,” said Mathis, whose first voice instructor, Connie Cox, taught him for free. In exchange, he ran errands and did odd jobs.
A star track and field athlete in high school, Mathis enrolled in what is now San Francisco State University in 1954 intending to become an English and physical education teacher. In September 1955 he began singing weekends at a club where a Columbia Records representative heard him. A few months later, in early 1956, Columbia invited him to record in New York around the same time he was asked to take part in the track and field trials for the U.S. Olympic team.