By Nicole Hamilton
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Toni Mathis' crowning moment happened in New York City.
The singer was traveling the country in her brand new 1973 Eldorado convertible, stopping to perform at various nightclubs with musicians she'd meet. It was in New York City that she met and sang with the legendary vibraphonist Lionel Hampton.
"That was her time, she just loved it. She just loved to sing," said her former husband and longtime friend, Tony Mathis of Chicago Heights.
Ms. Mathis died March 29 at Con-Del Hospital in Libertyville, Ill., from complications from heart disease. She was 60.
Born Esther Smith and raised in Cumminsville, Ms. Mathis started singing at an early age. Never formally trained, she launched her singing career at the former Cabana Lounge in Avondale immediately after she graduated from high school.
She sang a variety of styles, from blues and gospel to rock and jazz.
"She literally took Cincinnati by storm. Everybody was talking about her," said Tony Mathis.
She was called Little Esther at the beginning of her career, but the late Dale Stevens (a former entertainment writer with the Cincinnati Post) persuaded her to change her name to Toni Mathis - also the name of her new husband.
She performed around Cincinnati at venues like Old Castle Farm, The Peppermint Lounge in Newport, and The Living Room. And she kept company with music notables like blues man Lonnie Mack and Motown's Mary Wells.
In 1966 she and her husband moved to Chicago. Her career flourished in the Windy City, where she sang with King Kolax, Don Carone and Jackie Wilson - whom her husband met in Harlem in 1954.
"We went to see Jackie's show in Memphis," said Tony Mathis, "which is where Toni and I met Elvis Presley."
She also recorded an album with Capitol Records.
About five years ago, Ms. Mathis moved to Round Lake Beach, Ill. Although her health was beginning to fail, she still performed until a year ago.
Surviving is a niece. Services were held. The body was cremated.
LUCASVILLE PRISON RIOT: 10 YEARS LATER
Criminal cases linger
In their own words: Inmates plan murders
Spending cuts endanger reform, advocates say
Widow mourns guard's murder
Key figures during the riot
TOP LOCAL STORIES
Police delay in fatal beating investigated
911 call details
DeWine wants to pry open police strategy
Senate president White leads in a gentler style
PETER BRONSON COLUMN
Scouting the way it used to be
TRISTATE REACTS TO WAR ( Latest war news )
Grenade victim back in Ky.
Local soldier fighting for souls, too
Role of media to be discussed
Dinner for military families
Yellow ribbons encouraged
Students expose joys of cameras
Mission founder to be saint
Fernald cleanup might beat deadline
Rising taxes decried in Norwood
Portman: Christian ethics can be part of business
Avondale drug sweep snares morphine, cash
AROUND THE TRISTATE
State to mediate Warren agency flap
Hamilton invited to town meeting
Tristate A.M. Report
Hometown Heroes: Kareoke helps disabled
Obituary: Norma L. Flannery helped save wetlands
Obituary: Singer Toni Mathis started in Cincinnati
Good News: Art bash for children
Bike maker evokes Wright brothers with new line
Ohio Moments: War veterans arrive at site of Marietta
Florence pilot home safe from Kuwait
Pence may join Fletcher ticket
Court battle costly to Fletcher campaign
Fight over Ky. coal plant spills over to other states