Play ‘Misty’ for me

May 22, 2016


We recently attended a concert by Johnny Mathis and he, of course, sang “the holy trinity.”

Those who have followed this singer’s career know that he applies this sobriquet to three songs—”Chances Are,” “The Twelfth of Never,” and “Misty”—that he sings at virtually every appearance, whether he wants to or not.

These songs are identified with Mathis, and his fans expect to hear them.

In fact, from my point of view, they are so identified with Mathis, that no one else need bother to sing them. When the psychotic fan calls Clint Eastwood’s disk-jockey character in that 1971 thriller and whispers, “Play ‘Misty’ for me,” she doesn’t have to say which version she means, although by that time the Errol Garner-Johnny Burke song had also been recorded by stars that included Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and Della Reese.

Billy Eckstine 2

And not long after Johnny Mathis first recorded “Misty” for an album released in 1959, Billy Eckstine set down his version, which you can hear by clicking HERE.

Eckstine, who died in 1993, is largely forgotten, but he was an influential jazz musician and bandleader, a pioneer in be-bop, and a very successful singer. His vocal hits included “Blue Moon,” “Everything I Have is Yours,” “Caravan,” “My Foolish Heart,” and “I Apologize.” His recordings of “Cottage for Sale” and “Prisoner of Love” were million-sellers. He released more than forty-four albums. He had a rich bass-baritone voice with both subtlety and power, and a distinctive vibrato. A lot of his work, including his recordings with Sarah Vaughan and Dizzie Gillespie, is available on CD or MP3.

Billy Eckstine 3

In 1950, LIFE magazine published a three-page feature on Eckstine that included photographs by Martha Holmes. One of the photos showed Eckstine, who was one of the first “cross-over” black musical performers, with a group of female fans, all of them white. The whole group is laughing over something, and one of the women has her hand on Eckstine’s right shoulder and her face against the lapel of his jacket as she laughs. Because of the mores—or, I should say, prejudices—of that era, LIFE published the photo only with the approval of its publisher, Henry Luce. LIFE received many letters objecting to the picture, and many people turned against Eckstine. TIME magazine reproduced the photo to mark the centenary of Ekstine’s birth. You can see it by clicking HERE.

Eckstine, whose life included its share of personal turmoil, was a civil rights activist and a close friend of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.





2 Responses to “Play ‘Misty’ for me”

  1. shoreacres Says:

    That “Holy Trinity” surely was a part of my life (and loves) during junior and senior high. Of course they endured for years after that, but still — even the titles bring back the dances, the boyfriends, the slumber parties filled with young girls trying to figure out how to get a boy to dance with them.

    The good news is that Billy Eckstine was a part of my life then, too: thanks to my jazz-loving father. “Caravan” is one I remember just as vividly as “Misty.” There was such good music then, and it’s a blessing that it’s still available.

    As an aside, I finally made my way down the coast and stayed for two nights at the historic Luther Hotel in Palacios, Texas. I’ll be writing about it as soon as I find a “hook,” but it was a destination for a lot of folks who probably interest you, as well: Rita Hayworth, Carole Landis, Artie Shaw, “Harry” James, and Lyndon Baines Johnson. Shaw and James, with their orchestras, often played for dances at the pavilion, and believe me, it was great fun to walk the same stairway Rita Hayworth used, and stay in the “Presidential Suite” that LBJ enjoyed.

    • charlespaolino Says:

      Johnny Mathis is going to be 81 in September. He has accommodated himself to his age, mostly with a more limited touring schedule and arrangements that don’t include sustained high notes, but he’s still an excellent singer and a good showman. My wife and I spent some time with him, probably about forty years ago, and Pat asked him about something that she and I had discussed many times — namely, had he ever considered acting. He laughed and said he had raised that subject several times during his career but was brushed off. I think that was a mistake.

      I looked up some photos of the Luther Hotel. I love places like that; I look forward to reading your account. I love those names — Rita Hayworth, Artie Shaw, Carole Landis …. Bonnie once did her cabaret act at the Algonquin Hotel in New York where Alexander Woolcott presided over the roundtable with the likes of Dorothy Parker, Harpo and Groucho Marx, Francis P. Adams, George Burns, Moss Hart, etc. I felt as you did on that stairway at the Luther.

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