I’ve been a Johnny Mathis fan since I was a child. And while I wasn’t around for the hits like “Chances Are” and “Moon River,” I do remember when I was 8 and how much I liked his 1978 hit with Deniece Williams — “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late.”
That was my introduction to the man who will be remembered as one of the greatest voices of the 20th century.
Mathis, 81, brought a two-hour “Voice of Romance” show to the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi on Friday, a show that celebrated his 60 years as one of the most accomplished singers of all time. The show was sold out.
Those in attendance probably had a mental list of the things they hoped Mathis would perform — I know I did — and he gave everyone exactly what they wanted.
Backed by a 20-something piece orchestra, led by conductor John Scott Lavender, Mathis went through his edition of the “Great American Songbook,” giving heartfelt renditions of “Let It Be Me,” which Mathis recorded in 2010 with Allison Krauss, “Chances Are” and “Wonderful, Wonderful.”
He took a break after about an hour and comedian Gary Mule Deer entertained the crowd for 30 minutes or so. When Mathis returned to the stage, he opened the second set with “Pure Imagination,” which was written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley for the 1971 film “Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory,” one of my favorite movies from my childhood. It was pure joy to hear a voice like Mathis’ sing a song that has such strong ties to my childhood.
The second set also featured a stirring version of Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday” that featured Mathis’ longtime guitarist, Gil Reigers. Again, it was a real treat to hear Mathis sing The Beatles classic. He also played his version of Albert Hammond’s “99 Miles From LA.”
Johnny Mathis is timeless and he proved this Friday night in Biloxi. His strong tenor voice sounded better than some singers half his age. We can only hope that he will return to the Coast sooner rather than later. He’s a class act and an iconic singer who is still making music. For this, we should all be grateful.