“Small World” by Johnny Mathis
The lyrics of Johnny Mathis’ “Small World” are unisexual, in that the vocalist is singing from both a male and female perspective. And what the title is based on is the common colloquial usage, even to this day, of the term “small world”. And said terminology generally points to the notion of two individuals who have something significant in common randomly meeting.
Often “small world” is used in the context of said individuals perhaps having known or somehow been associated with each other in the past and then just by chance crossing paths at some random locality. But within the context of this song, what Johnny Mathis is actually alluding to is a concept more like love at first sight. That is to say that two people could just meet out of the blue and realize they have a lot in common. In fact there could be enough commonalities between them that they decide to become an item, henceforth facing the world in unison.
And the narrative the singer uses to get this point across centers primarily on a “woman with children” hooking up with a “man who likes children”. Those attributes are ultimately symbolic. For at the end of the day, the point being made is that a single person can meet his or her soulmate, i.e. someone they are highly compatible with romantically, at any given time. And when such does transpire they may also, like the characters in this song, marvel at how “small” the world really is.
Johnny Mathis is a singer who grew up in San Francisco. He began making music as a professional back in 1956, when he was just entering his twenties. And yes, as of the writing of this post in mid-2021 he is still in fact listed as being professionally active at the age of 85.
Johnny learned music from his dad who was a singer/pianist, though apparently not in a professional capacity. Rather both of his parents engaged in domestic cooking as a profession. And they were heavily involved in Mathis’s career during its early goings, i.e. being responsible for managing his fan club.
It should also be noted that Johnny was a very-talented, multi-faceted athlete in his youth. He was especially exceptional at the high jump and in that regard once bested Bill Russell of NBA fame, who went on to become an athletic legend, in that event.
Mathis himself went on to become a legend, though in the field of music as opposed to athletics. His heyday was during the first 15 or so years of his career, from 1956 to 1963, during his initial stint with Columbia Records. Between 1956 and 2017 Johnny has dropped a whopping 73 studio albums, which on average is more than one per year. And he also earned a plethora of accolades, most notably a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003 and having songs he dropped enshrined in the Grammy Hall of Fame on three different occasions between 1998 and 2008. And in 2014 he also became a Great American Songbook Hall of Fame inductee.
Concerning Johnny Mathis’s distinct looks, he is of both Native American and African-American ancestry, with both of those backgrounds being visibly noticeable.
Also interesting to note is that Mathis reportedly lives in the same mansion he bought way back in the late 1950s, which was actually built by business magnate Howard Hughes (1905-1976). Or at very least he did until said home was the victim of a serious fire in 2015.
There are two writers of this song. One is Jule Styne (1905-1994), who was a Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee. And the second, Stephen Sondheim, specializes in theatre music and even boasts of having won a Pulitzer Prize (for Drama). And to note, both Styne and Sondheim have been enshrined in the American Theatre Hall of Fame.
“Small World” broke the top 20 of both the Billboard Hot 100 and Cash Box Top 100. Outside of that, there doesn’t appear to be that much information about the song online. However, what we do know is that Johnny Mathis was not the first person to sing it. Rather he was inspired to take up the tune after seeing Ethel Merman (1908-1984) perform it as part of a play called Gypsy (1959). In fact it is via said musical that “Small World” originated.
And it should be noted that the vocalist proclaiming that she is “a woman with children” is actually based on the character who sings it from Gypsy.
Johnny released his own version on 25 May 1959, as part of a project called More Johnny’s Greatest Hits. And said compilation album was put together by Columbia Records.
It turns out the term “small world”, or more specifically the expression “it’s a small world” actually dates back quite a few centuries. In fact it’s so old that no one seems to know exactly when or where people started using it.