When told that songs he recorded nearly 60 years ago are still delighting listeners, Johnny Mathis accepts the compliment on behalf of his father.

“Well, it’s really all because of my dad, he’s my hero personally and musically,” said Mathis, from his home in Los Angeles. “I can still remember, I must have been 4 or 5 years old, the day he came home to our basement flat (in San Francisco) with what looked like a pile of wood. It was a dismantled piano. He put it together, started playing and that was the start of it all.”

And there’s no end in sight for the music of Mathis, 79, who will perform at Portland’s Merrill Auditorium on May 10. His recordings are some of the most-played in pop music history. His “Johnny’s Greatest Hits Album” came out in 1958 and stayed on the Billboard album chart for an unheard of 10 years, on the strength of classics like “Chances Are,” “Wonderful, Wonderful” and “It’s Not for Me to Say.”

He reached the Billboard charts two years ago when his holiday song with Jim Brickman, “Sending You a Little Christmas” became a hit. He’s now in the early stages of recording an album of contemporary pop hits with record industry legend Clive Davis.

Though he admits to not knowing any of the songs Davis has recommended he record.

“I’m looking forward to it, there are some great songs. But I really didn’t know any of them,” said Mathis. “I know there is one by Bruno Mars. Are you familiar with that name?”

Millions of people are familiar with Mathis’ name, as are scores of record company executives. Still, he said that when Davis approached him about making an album of today’s pop hits, he was surprised the younger folks working with Davis would want Mathis for the project.

“I was very surprised some of these young people in the record industry even knew who I was,” said Mathis.

Mathis’ longevity in the music business might be summed up as he got a fast start, then paced himself for the long haul.

His first recordings came out in 1956, when he was just 20, and most of his biggest hits came out over the next four or five years. He continued to record throughout the ’60s and ’70s. He had a No. 1 pop hit in 1978 with “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late,” a duet with Deniece Williams.

As he’s gotten older, Mathis says he takes care of his voice by limiting tour dates, eating right and exercising. He also said that for most of his career he has lived by a couple simple rules about voice health: Don’t talk too much, and don’t yell, ever.

“I’m pretty calm, so it’s not a problem to not yell. The only time I yelled much was probably in high school, playing sports,” said Mathis, a former high school track star.

Mathis’ parents, Clem and Mildred Mathis, worked as cooks and general domestic help in the homes of wealthy San Franciscans. They encouraged Mathis, one of seven children, to take music and voice lessons. Mathis said his parents’ employers were important in his life, helping with money for his education and voice lessons.

Mathis credits his distinctive vocal style, which includes a delicate quiver in his voice combined with bursts of power, to a long-time vocal coach he met while he was a teenager, Connie Cox.

She was an opera fan, and taught him to manipulate his vocal cords and body in such a way that he could sing with the power of an opera star.

At the same time, while growing up in San Francisco, Mathis went to jazz clubs with his siblings and fell in love with the sound of artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole. He says for the longest time he wanted to sound “just like” Cole.

People who come to see Mathis at Merrill Auditorium can expect him to sing all his big hits with his full band. Of those, he says “Misty” is the one he enjoys singing most.

But he also has a part of the show he reserves to sing his favorite songs by other artists. Mathis sings a few of these songs with only guitarist Gil Reiber, who has been with Mathis for some 50 years. Mathis says he sings songs he loves during that time, by artists like Cole or Fitzgerald.

When asked to name the songs, Mathis mentioned “When I Fall in Love,” which Cole recorded in the 1950s. To help the interviewer know exactly what song he was talking about, he sang a couple lines of it. He also sang a line or two of “Let It Be Me” and “You’ll Never Know.”

Besides singing, his passions these days include cooking and golfing. When asked how often he cooks, Mathis replied, “I’ve got something on the stove now and I was just thinking I should go check on it.” He also said he’d be playing golf soon after the interview was over.

But Mathis said the thing that brings him the most joy is hearing stories about how his music plays such a powerful role in people’s lives.

“It’s been a revelation, over the years, to hear people telling me about the part my music has played in their lives,” said Mathis. “What I’ve learned over the years is that no matter how familiar a song is to me, or how difficult it is to maintain the quality of the music, it’s worth the effort.”