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Rocking the ClosetHow Little Richard, Johnnie Ray, Liberace, and Johnny Mathis Queered Pop Music$
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Vincent L. Stephens

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780252042805

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252042805.001.0001

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Fine and Dandy

Fine and Dandy

Mapping Johnny Mathis’s Negotiations of Race, Sexuality, and Affect

Chapter:
(p.115) Chapter Four Fine and Dandy
Source:
Rocking the Closet
Author(s):

Vincent L. Stephens

Publisher:
University of Illinois Press
DOI:10.5622/illinois/9780252042805.003.0005

This chapter explores how Johnny Mathis launched his career successfully by maneuvering the racial and gender norms of the 1950s. Through projecting a culturally respectable, sexually neutral, and musically inoffensive persona, marked by visual dandyism, he was appealingly ambiguous. Vocally, Mathis’s sweet tenor sound was somewhat unconventional yet soothing enough to make him a premier interpreter of love songs. Similarly, though jazz, R&B and pop crooning influenced him, his “raceless” sound helped him appeal across races and ages. Culturally, Mathis adheres to the “race man” persona prominent among postwar black male celebrities, but his muted politics and lack of a romantic relationship helped him avoid scandals. His queer black dandy persona has parallels among other performers including Bobby Short and Luther Vandross.

Keywords:   Johnny Mathis, tenor, respectability, dandy, ambiguous, raceless, race man, black dandy, Bobby Short, Luther Vandross

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