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Q&A: Johnny Mathis croons for a cause at Georgetown children’s charity event

In this Monday, Sept. 8, 2014 photo, singer Johnny Mathis poses for a portrait in Los Angeles. The 78-year-old singer will release a 13-CD box set of unsuccessful commercial albums released from 1963 to 1967, when Mathis left his longtime label, Columbia Records, for Mercury Records and Global Records, his own production company. “The Complete Global Albums Collection” will be released on Nov. 17. (Photo by Omar Vega/Invision/AP)

WASHINGTON — A legendary musician is coming to Georgetown to croon for a cause.

Johnny Mathis will headline the fourth annual “Heroes of Child Justice” charity event at the Georgetown University Hotel & Conference Center on Reservoir Road on Sunday, Sept. 23.

The event will raise money for Child Justice Inc., which protects abused or neglected children.

“We do as much as we can helping children who are the victims of family violence, physical and sexual abuse, substance addiction, neglect and so forth,” event organizer Tim Goodman said. “We offer pro bono work to families who cannot afford the cost of legal representation.”

Tickets to the fundraiser cost $200. There will also be a live auction, including a chance to play an upcoming round of golf with Mathis and Goodman at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles.

“I was more than happy to do it,” Mathis told WTOP. “I raised three of my brothers and sisters — I’ve got six brothers and sisters — so I’m used to being around young people and trying to help them out whenever I can, because I had a lot of help when I was a kid.”

Born in Texas in 1935, Mathis’ family quickly moved to San Francisco, where he grew up.

“I loved my dad,” Mathis said. “He was the greatest guy in the world. We went hunting and fishing and sat at the piano and sang. At a very early age, he got me involved with a voice teacher and, before I knew it, I was making records. That’s the genesis of my music career.”

Ironically, Mathis almost didn’t pursue a future in music, but rather an athletic career.

“My claim to fame was that I broke one of Bill Russell’s … high-jump records in California,” he said. “I had a chance to go to the Olympics as a high jumper, but during the same week I was to go to the trials, I got my first opportunity to make my first recording in New York. So, my dad and I looked at each other and said, ‘Well, are you gonna high jump or are you gonna go sing?’ So that was that — the high jumping went out the window and the singing started!”

Signed by Columbia Records, Mathis delivered his first hit “It’s Not For Me To Say” (1957).

“I was just lucky,” Mathis said. “What was I, 18 years old when I recorded that? … I recorded four songs initially for my contract, and one of the songs was ‘It’s Not For Me To Say.’ There was also ‘Wonderful, Wonderful,’ ‘Chances Are’ and another ‘The Twelfth of Never.’ I did them all in one recording session, and the record company kept them and released one at a time.”

Indeed, “Wonderful, Wonderful” (1957) and “The Twelfth of Never” (1957) both became major hits on the U.S. charts, while the iconic “Chances Are” skyrocketed all the way to No. 1.

“I’m very proud that, at such a young age, I had some really good songs to sing,” Mathis said. “That was the rock ‘n’ roll era, and some other kids became quite famous singing rock ‘n’ roll. But, I had studied with a voice teacher for about 10 or 12 years prior to my first recording, so I had things that I wanted to do vocally that you couldn’t do if you were singing rock ‘n’ roll.”

Other major hits followed, from “Misty” (1959) to “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late” (1978), all the while modeling his own crooner career after his longtime favorite singer Nat King Cole.

“Nat King Cole was my favorite singer of all time — still is,” Mathis said. “He was a lovely man who befriended me at a very early age. I was besotted with his music and the way he sang. He’s a brilliant musician who, prior to his singing, made a living playing the piano. So I was very adamant about making sure that everybody knew that my big vocal hero was Nat King Cole.”

Just like Cole, Mathis entered our homes during the holidays, namely his 1986 cover of Perry Como’s “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” which is now the definitive version.

“My dad and mom made Christmas really quite wonderful,” Mathis said. “As far as Christmas songs were concerned, that was a big deal for a large family at Christmas! So the first thing I did after I had a couple of hit records was to record a Christmas album because my mom and my dad were my best pals and I wanted to do something for them. Christmas has been very good to me as far as my recordings are concerned [and] very instrumental in my career.”

You’ll experience that same joy at the “Heroes of Child Justice” benefit next month in D.C.

“It is a joy,” Goodman said. “He’s an American treasure, and it’s something that everybody should hear. You won’t be disappointed. … It’s great to come and support Child Justice. I think it’s a very, very, very worthy cause, and on top of that, to be up close and personal and hear Johnny Mathis like you’ll never ever get to hear him! And, you’ll get to meet him afterward; he’s going to work the crowd afterwards and say ‘hi’ to everybody. It’s really going to be a fun time.”

Find more on the event website. Hear WTOP’s full chats with Johnny Mathis and Tim Goodman below:

WTOP's jason Fraley chats with Johnny Mathis (Full Interview)

Jason Fraley

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