Johnny Mathis & Deniece Williams
ohnny Mathis (born September 30, 1935, in San Francisco, California) made his first appearance on a Billboard chart on February 9, 1957, when "Wonderful! Wonderful!" made its debut. It remained on the survey for 39 weeks, the longest-running chart single until Paul Davis hit the 40-week mark with "I Go Crazy" on May 27, 1978. Mathis had little time to be upset about having his record broken -- the following week he went to number one for the first time ever with "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late," a finely-crafted duet sung with Deniece Williams.
While his name was assured a place in history, Mathis' chart career was in low gear in 1978. His last Top 10 single single had been "What Will My Mary Say" in 1963, and he hadn't even appeared in the Hot 100 since "Life Is a Song Worth Singing" in early 1974.
"Jack Gold, my producer, and I felt we had done as many good recordings as we could and couldn't figure out how we could do anything better than we had already done, so we decided to try something different," Mathis divulged in a 1978 Billboard interview. "Jack had heard of Deniece and her success and knew how clever she was in the studio with background voices... I grew up on R&B, jazz and classical music. So when we decided to try something different, we knew Deniece was big in the R&B area so I said, 'maybe we can get some of the R&B diehards to listen to some of my music.' We decided the best way was to get someone who was already accepted in that area and see what happens."
Deniece had sung with Stevie Wonder as part of the Wonderlove backing group, and had one hit single on her own before teaming with Mathis -- "Free," number 25 in April, 1977. She describes how she and Mathis became a recording team: "I remember my manager saying the record company wants to know if you're interested in singing with Johnny Mathis and I said, 'Are you kidding? Do I want to sing with Johnny Mathis?.... I was devastated, I couldn't believe that I was going to get a chance to sing with Johnny. And then I didn't believe that they would use the record. I thought well, they probably won't use this, so I said, 'Can I have a tape for me?'" Deniece was touring when she turned on the radio in her hotel room one day and heard "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late."
To follow the single, the first chart-topper for both artists, and the first duet Mathis had ever recorded, an entire album of Mathis-Williams numbers was produced. Only an updating of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's "You're All I Need to Get By" charted (number 47 in September, 1978).
Mathis has since recorded duets with a number of female artists, including Jane Olivor ("The Last TIme I Felt Like This" from Same Time, Next Year), former Harlette Paulette McWilliams ("Different Kinda Different"), Angela Bofill ("You're a Special Part of Me") and Dionne Warwick ("Friends of Love").
He reteamed with Williams on a re-working of the Major Harris song "Love Won't Let Me Wait," a song that did well on the Adult Contemporary chart just before Williams had her first number one single on her own, "Let's Hear It for the Boy," in 1984. In the 1980s, Mathis and Williams could also be heard every week on NBC, singing the theme song ("Without Us") for the network's second most popular series, Family Ties.
- Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1988.
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