The icon talks his highest-charting AC hit since 1978, his new star-studded duets album and holiday memories
With "Sending You a Little Christmas," with Jim Brickman, the legendary Johnny Mathis is enjoying his milestone 50th hit on Adult Contemporary chart. As the song soars 11-4 this week, Mathis scores his highest-charting song on the list since 1978, when "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late," with Deniece Williams, reached No. 1.
His new carol is the title cut to his new album, which makes its own news on the Billboard 200. Charging from No. 178 to No. 80 (with a 46% increase to 8,000 sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan), the set grants Mathis his highest rank on the tally also since 1978. He last charted higher with the No. 19-peaking Gold-certified "That's What Friends Are For," a duets set with Williams.
On the Holiday Albums chart, Mathis' new set rises 37-25. He also re-enters at No. 38 with "Gold: A 50th Anniversary Christmas Celebration."
As he enjoys his chart resurgence, Mathis spoke with Billboard about his career beginnings, his new album, and how he's become an integral and beloved part of music fans' holiday playlists every year.
Billboard: "Sending You a Little Christmas" adds to your already impressive chart history dating back more than 50 years. What does that legacy of success mean to you?
Mathis: It's quite amazing to me and I feel very fortunate, but it all started with my dad. He was a great singer in his own right and recognized that I had a unique voice at an early age. He urged me to take voice lessons when I was about 13, and the lessons that I learned then still help me now.
How did you come to record the song and new album of the same name?
My producer, Fred Mollin, and I wanted to do some duets. After lining up great singers like Gloria Estefan, Billy Joel, Vince Gill and Susan Boyle, we decided that we wanted a newer song and we came up with Jim Brickman's. He'd recorded it before, but it gave the record that finishing touch. [With vocalist Kristy Starling, Brickman's original version topped AC in 2004.]
Jim is very talented and a very nice person. I'm happy that we're having some success.
From "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" to so many other classics of yours, you're very much synonymous with Christmas music. Why do you think your holiday songs continue to resonate so well? And, do you have any special plans to celebrate Christmas this year?
I got the opportunity to record the album "Merry Christmas" in 1958 with the great Percy Faith and his Orchestra. I think it laid a good foundation for recording future Christmas albums. "Sending You a Little Christmas" is my sixth.
This time of year is very special for me. There were seven of us growing up and my mom and dad always made it such a wonderful, magical time.
This year, I'm looking forward to spending the holidays with my brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews.