Three Things Singers Can Learn from Johnny Mathis

Johnny Mathis singing
Leading voice coach and one-time backing vocalist for Johnny Mathis, Jaime Babbitt, shares essential insights for all vocalists.

Leading voice coach and one-time backing vocalist for Johnny Mathis, Jaime Babbitt, shares essential insights for all vocalists.

“Chances Are”… that if you’re a man or woman of a certain age, you’ll recognize the golden tones of this icon.

For you young whippersnappers, Johnny Mathis has been crooning since 1956, longer than many of us have been alive.

He continues to tour, make Grammy-nominated albums AND play golf and tennis…and he’s in his early eighties!

I was honored to sing background vocals on “Let It Be Me: Mathis in Nashville” (produced by Fred Mollin) a handful of years ago and got to spend some time with him.

Let me tell you about it. Oh, but first, here’s Johnny singing in June 2017. Notice the ease of his delivery; he’s not pushing even one iota over a full band and string section. AND HE’S 81:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qR-Pj4JVh5I

Oh, heck. You guys need to A/B these two vids. Here’s the original 1959 recording. SAME KEY AS 2017:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qR-Pj4JVh5I

(*Bangs head on desk and thanks God for Johnny Mathis)

So, what are his secrets?

1) He takes great, great care of his body, mind and spirit.

Johnny (he prefers John, btw) is extremely conscious of the foods he eats and usually cooks at home (both his parents were professional cooks). He doesn’t drink. He’s been blessed with a gentle temperament; he is NOT a type A person at all! He has always been an athlete and to this day goes to the gym and plays golf and tennis. John always made caring for his voice a priority; his father was a wonderful singer and although John isn’t known as a ‘belter’, he studied classical and operatic techniques from when he was a teenager and can definitely let ‘er rip. Note to selves: As vocalists, we need to understand that we have to take extra special care because our instruments are attached to us.

2)He is true to/honest with himself.

Being a singer is also every bit about who we are, the life we live, the way we feel about ourselves and the messages we convey to others. John came out as a gay man in 1982; he received death threats for being African-American (and for being gay); he couldn’t stay in certain hotels in Vegas at the height of his career.

But did that stop him? Nope, John just kept going. He didn’t argue or get overly political. He simply said some version of, “So what?” and went on singing and making people happy with his gifts. His quote from 2016: “When are we going to find out that we’re all the same, we’re all absolutely, without a doubt, the same? It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or straight or gay.” Here, here!

3) He believes deeply in the healing powers of love and music.

Love and music, love and music…go together like a….oh, never mind. Bad joke attempt. But John understands the relationship between the two. Yes, there are plenty of mean lyrics and unsettling forms of music, and they have their time and place, for sure. But when you’re talking about healing, and joining folks together, it’s all about this:

Notice how open he is. Yes, do take notes on how well he’s using his mouth and voice re: the shapes of his vowels and the purity of his tone, but also notice his eyes and how they welcome you into the world he’s creating. This is a prime example of love and music and how you hard it is to have one without the other.

I’ll leave you with this: fast forwarding almost 60 years to a performance with his guitarist of 45 years, Gil Reigers (uh, keeping band members for many decades…that tells you something about a guy, right?); notice the technique AND the love AND the music…AND his eyes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVk44b2501E

Find out more about Jaime Babbitt at www.workingwithyourvoice.com for bookings, see www.greenhillsguitarstudio.com/voice-lessons

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