Entertainment Lead Story Music West Edition

Los Angeles honors Johnny Mathis to begin Black History Month

LOS ANGELES — Singer Johnny Mathis serenaded a crowd in front of City Hall Feb. 1 to kickoff Black History Month and receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the city.

The three-time Grammy Award winner joined jazz singer Barbara Morrison in performing “It’s Not For Me To Say,” his 1957 hit song.

Mathis has put 50 songs on Billboard’s adult contemporary chart, one of only five artists to accomplish that.

Other people received Hall of Fame honors during the ceremony for their service in law, education and government were André Birotte Jr., a U.S. District Judge from the Central District of California, Michelle King, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District; and Matthew Johnson, the president of the Los Angeles Police Commission.

A group of protestors from Black Lives Matter disrupted Johnson’s presentation after the commission ruled Jan. 31 that officers were not involved in the death of Wakiesha Wilson, a woman who was found unresponsive in a jail cell last year on Easter Sunday and died later at a hospital. The coroner’s office ruled the death a suicide by hanging.

“Say her name, Wakiesha Wilson!” they yelled before being escorted from the premises.

But Judy Jackson, 62, who came to the event with the local chapter of the National Council of Negro Women, said she enjoyed the presentation because she did not know about Johnson’s background.

“It was a good representative of all areas,” she said.

To Jackson, Black History Month represents “a time to honor all people, in the past and future,” she said. “We have a long way to go and we can only do it if we do it together.”

Other guests during the ceremony were singers Howard Hewitt, Dionne Warwick and Deniece Williams, who sang with Mathis.

Johnny Mathis and Deniece Williams sing together outside Los Angeles City Hall Feb. 1 during the city’s Black History Month celebration. Mathis received the city’s Lifetime Achievement Award during ceremonies. (Photo by Tyrone Cole)
Johnny Mathis and Deniece Williams sing together outside Los Angeles City Hall Feb. 1 during the city’s Black History Month celebration. Mathis received the city’s Lifetime Achievement Award during ceremonies. (Photo by Tyrone Cole)

Williams and Mathis had a hit single, “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late” together in 1978, which reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart, Adult Contemporary Chart and R&B chart.

Williams shared stories about Mathis, including an anecdote about how they performed for Prince Charles and she realized her wig was on backwards.

“When I realized it, I thought, ‘Should I turn that sucker around?’ And I kept it the way it was. I was in the receiving line to meet the prince with my wig on backwards,” she said.

Warwick called Mathis a longtime friend who “taught me the meaning of humility and unconditional love.”

Mathis’ career dates back to the 1950s. He is best known for hits such as “Chances Are,” “Misty” and “It’s Not For Me to Say.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti appeared before the council to present the award and introduce Mathis.

“There have been so many ways in which you have touched our lives, from those quiet moments to those sad moments, to those celebratory moments, when what you say has touched our hearts and our souls and moved us forward,” Garcetti said.

Mathis grew up in Texas but has lived in Los Angeles for decades. In 2015, the home he had lived in for 56 years in the Hollywood Hills was severely damaged by a fire.

Accepting his award, Mathis said, “I have never been so flattered in my life. This is quite a wonderful experience for me to see how the workings of our city government go. It’s given me great, great insight into the hard work that goes into things that people like me take for granted.

“What I do comes from my dad,” he said. “I loved my dad. My dad was the best guy. He raised seven children — my mom and my dad — on domestic wages. He never knew quite where his next job was going to be. He was a singer. My brothers and sisters never listened, but I did.”

Elvin Wheeler, 56, was drawn to the event by hearing the musical tributes to Mathis.

He said he and his fiancé were walking down the street and heard the music.

“We heard music, and it was our music, so we came over to see what was going on,” he said.

Wheeler said Black History Month “is something we should celebrate everyday.”

“Our history is not taught in schools, and for some reason, I think it gets retold from another perspective, usually an Anglo-European one.”