Wonderful, Wonderful Johnny Mathis

Bing Crosby is one of the few great singers that even young people have heard of due to his recording of “White Christmas” that is heard every holiday season; however, few know of Johnny Mathis, the last of the classic male pop singers of the 20th century, who has recorded six Christmas albums of his own.  And he still performs at age 87.

Born in Gilmer, Texas in 1935, Johnny Mathis grew up in San Francisco where he developed into an impressive athlete and singer.

In 1954, Mathis attended San Francisco State College and set a high jump record that was just two inches short of the Olympic record at the time.

In 1955, Mathis began singing in nightclubs and in the audience for one performance was George Avakian who was a top executive for Columbia Records.  After hearing Mathis sing, he sent the following telegram to his company:  “have found phenomenal 19-year-old boy who could go all the way.”

One year later in 1956, Mathis had to make a major decision.  He was invited to the Olympic trials and, at the same time, Columbia Records invited him to record his first song.  His father helped him make the decision(No, his father did not recommend the Olympics.)

Known for imbuing lush romantic ballads with his rich, velvety-smooth voice, Mathis had so many hit records in his first two years as a recording artist that in 1958 Columbia Records released an album called Johnny’s Greatest Hits, which was the very first time a record company compiled any singer or group’s most popular songs.   This Greatest Hits collection spent 490 continuous weeks on Billboard’s albums chart (that’s nearly 10 straight years), a record that still stands to this day.

Keep in mind that at this point in music history, all of Johnny Mathis’s peers such as Elvis Presley were recording rock ‘n’ roll music so for him to successfully record love ballads was quite unusual.

His most famous records include“Wonderful, Wonderful,” “Misty,” and “Maria.”

One song not as well known that he recorded was “Never Never Land” from the famous Broadway musical Peter Pan.  Full of haunting emotion, Mathis’s phrasing and octave range make this recording a treasure that any aspiring singer should study.  Mathis’s amazing breath control allows him to sing without taking a breath for long passages, one lasting 19 seconds.

However, if you were to ever just listen to one song by Mathis, go to YouTube and watch his 1978 performance of “Pieces of Dreams” on the Johnny Carson show.  At the end, he holds one note for nearly ½-minute.   At age 43, Mathis was only halfway through his life at that point, yet at the peak of his singing powers.

I have been fortunate to have hear Mathis perform several times.  He is such a gracious man and is still able to carry a tune.

This December he will give five Christmas concerts at five different venues from Ohio to California.  There is even a December date already set in Illinois for 2023 when he will be 88 years old.

If you have never seen him live, don’t overlook the opportunity to see and hear an icon.

Thanks for the Memory, Bob Hope–Now Goodbye

There was a time when the name “Burbank” was nationally recognized.  The TV comedy show “Laugh-In” and The Tonight Show host Johnny Carson made Burbank a household name referencing it with the popular mocking proclamation, “Welcome to Beautiful Downtown Burbank!”

Though a joke, it brought attention to the city.  Now, few people under 40 years of age remember “Laugh-In” or Johnny Carson or Bob Hope.   Which explains why the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority decided to change the name of the airport from Bob Hope to Hollywood Burbank.

According to airport officials, the facility has seen a drop in traffic from nearly six million passengers in 2007 to four million in 2014.

Any Burbank resident would question these numbers by the huge amount of development that has occurred over that time period.   And now the airport wants to demolish the terminal building with an even larger one apparently believing that if you build a bigger airport, more people will come.

Quite frankly, those who live near the airport can only negatively be impacted with increased traffic who don’t desire a mini-LAX in their backyard.

In their quest for money, the commissioners have trashed history.  When the airport took on the Bob Hope moniker shortly after the entertainer died 13 years ago this month at the age of 100, it was an honor well deserved.

Bob Hope was considered by many as the most popular performer of the 20th century, achieving success in all aspects of the entertainment industry:  vaudeville, radio, film, television.   Additionally, through his USO tours during World War Two and future conflicts, he made entertaining the troops the good deed that celebrities should do for Americans fighting overseas.

Hope taped most of his television specials in Burbank at NBC Studios.  Plus, he lived most of his life in Toluca Lake.  His name attached to the airport is a tribute to his link to the city.

Sometimes changing names from the past makes sense.  It wasn’t until the 1970’s when Burroughs High revised its Injunettes cheerleader squad to Indianettes.

And just last year a town in Spain finally changed its name “Castrillo Matajudios” meaning “Fort Kill the Jews.”  Well, that only took 500 years since the Spanish Inquisition.

Other times replacing names eliminates the history of an area.

Back in 1993 the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors changed the name of Brooklyn Avenue in East Los Angeles to Cesar Chavez since the demographics went from Jewish to Spanish. In a few decades from now when a different demographic is predominant, surely there will be another rebranding.

I work at a school named after Herbert Hoover who often appears on lists of the worst U.S. presidents. Hoover High opened just a few weeks before Black Tuesday, the beginning of the Great Depression.  Even students who attend there don’t know who he is.   Should the Glendale Unified School District rebrand the school with a more well respected chief executive in order to attract more students?

I understand the appeal of the name “Hollywood” but its geographical location is Burbank, so the proper name should be Burbank-Hollywood Airport. Or, if the main reason for the change is to attract travelers, call it the Ikea Hollywood Airport since the city will soon be home to the largest Ikea store in the USA, and charge naming rights.

Glendale High recently named its auditorium as the John Wayne Performing Arts Center.   That makes sense since Wayne was an alumnus.   But if the goal is to attract people, calling it the Kim Kardashian Performing Arts Center would have been better.  Sure, she never attended the school, but she did consider running for mayor of the city once.

Meanwhile, Burbank has the Robert R. Ovrom Park and Community Center.  I wonder how many years it will take before people scratch their heads not knowing that Ovrom was a city manager.

By the way, has Burbank ever named a building after a teacher?

Tom Marshall taught history to thousands of students for more than 50 years at Burroughs High School.  Yet his lifelong dedication to kids is not memorialized.  It’s as if he never existed, his past vanished.  You would be hard pressed thinking of a worthier individual who positively affected people’s lives, not some city employee who opened the floodgates to the daily traffic jams that clog Burbank streets.

At least Burbank still has a Bob Hope Drive though it is the shortest street in town.

Every generation has a duty to maintain, not eliminate, history regardless of its marketability.

It behooves all of us to remember Hope’s most famous song, “Thanks for the Memory.”