• Friday, July 19, 2024
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Johnny Mathis: My family values


The US singer talks about losing his older brother and how his mother and father ran his fan club

I have no memories of my childhood in Texas. When I was about four we moved to San Francisco. I was in the middle of seven brothers and sisters; three girls and four boys. Most of my older brothers and sisters got the blame for everything and the little ones had a free ride. We loved each other but fought like cats and dogs. There were no real problems, though – we were pretty civilised. We didn’t have any outsize personalities; most of my brothers and sisters are quiet types.

My mum and dad were domestic workers. They were professional cooks and cooked all these extraordinary things. I spent most of my childhood with my father. He was a singer and played the piano and I was fascinated with him, whereas my brothers and sisters weren’t that interested in music. They were busy doing other things but it was very important to me. I got involved early and extensively in singing in every capacity of my daily life – I sang in church choirs and in choirs at school. I took music lessons. My dad taught me my first songs, took me fishing, hunting – a lot of outdoor activities, free activities; that was the main thing, it didn’t cost anything.

My oldest brother was sick for a very long time before he died. I forget the disease but he was hospitalised for a long time and he needed care. He was a wonderful guy and he died too soon. And mum and dad, they died very early because I think they just worked too hard. Mum was just 56 when she died and Dad was 64 but the impact of their deaths on us was muted. We’re a little reserved in our emotions and although I think we felt it and it had a great bearing on our lives, we didn’t show any outward signs. But their legacy, as far as I was concerned, was extraordinary. Mum taught me to cook and Dad taught me a lot of things, mostly how to sing.

My mum and dad were presidents of my fan club. You had to have someone who knew you to answer the questions people asked. They loved doing it. They’d sit up all night long, writing in longhand, answering these crazy people who’d ask all sorts of crazy questions about their son, including some adoring love letters. I think they were shocked at some of the things people wrote.

There are now four of us brothers and sisters left; Linda, Ralph, me and Elizabeth. They’re all married so I have about 15 or 16 nieces and nephews – all studious, smart, good-looking kids.

I’ve never been married and I have no regrets about not starting my own family. I come from a large one so there are so many people around all the time. I’ve been very happy but I’ve never gotten married. That’s about the size of it. I would have been a good father because I’ve been a father to my brothers’ and sisters’ children.

I think I am as close to some friends as I am to my brothers and sisters. And they are my family. I think it’s important to cultivate as many people as you can to see which ones you jive with. And it makes you happy. If one dies you have another one. So living is a process that you have to do by yourself, and if you can learn a few little goodies along the way that might make it easier for you, so much the better. I’ve found that the more friends I have, the luckier I am.

Courtesy of The Guardian UK