Mathis was born in Gilmer, Texas, the fourth of seven children of Clem Mathis and his wife, Mildred Boyd. The family moved to San Francisco, California, settling on 32nd Ave. in the Richmond District, where he grew up.
His father had worked in vaudeville, and when he saw his son’s talent, he bought an old upright piano for $25 and encouraged Johnnys’ efforts. Mathis began learning songs and routines from his father; his first song being “My Blue Heaven.” Mathis started singing and dancing for visitors at home, and at school and church functions.
Beside his talent as a singer Johnny Mathis was a star athlete at George Washington High School. He was a high jumper and hurdler, and played on the basketball team, earning four athletic letters. In 1954, he enrolled at San Francisco State University on a scholarship, intending to become an English and physical education teacher.
Johnny is featured in DC’s Pat Boone Comics #4 where Johnny athletic prowlness earned him on the field accolades, letters and scholarship.