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Cover of the spring 2003 SFSU magazine. Geography Professor Max Kirkeberg and students tour of San Francisco's Western Addition.

 

SFSU Magazine Online, Spring/Summer 2003, Volume 3, Number 2.
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Alumni and FriendsA black and white photo of SFSU alumnus Johnny Mathis smiling in a white button-down shirt.

 

Wonderful, Wonderful News

Singer Johnny Mathis (attended '54–'57) -- a star high-jumper at SF State before he began making hit records -- received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 45th Grammys last February.

The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences hailed the velvety-voiced singer as "an important influence in sustaining the interest of contemporary audiences in pop standards." Mathis' best-known songs include "It's Not for Me to Say," "Chances Are" and "Wonderful, Wonderful."

In 1955, Mathis was a 19-year-old San Francisco State student when a Columbia Records producer heard him singing in a jazz club and offered him a contract. Since then, he has made more than 100 albums, 60 of which have reached the charts. His 1959 "More Greatest Hits" holds the record for the longest time on Billboard's Top Albums chart -- just short of 10 years.

Mathis came to SF State on an athletic scholarship. His record-setting high jump earned him an invitation to try out for the 1956 Olympics, but when his singing career started to take off, he decided to forego the trials.

In 1982, SF State honored the singer by creating the Johnny Mathis Invitational Track and Field Meet, which annually draws hundreds of athletes from throughout Northern California -- and sometimes Mathis himself.

Mathis has some truly wild fans just around the corner from SFSU at the San Francisco Zoo. The recent addition of new penguins to the zoo's resident flock caused chaos inside their tank. That is, until zookeeper Jane Tollini played the birds some Mathis tunes. The penguins stopped swimming and "starting getting cozy with one another," Tollini told NPR, adding that the birds are especially fond of Mathis' "Come to Me."

-- Anne Burke

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