Matthews was born in Brooklyn, New York. He has played various movie roles, including a fire chief in Superman III (1983), General Tudor in The Fifth Element (1997), and Master Sergeant #3 in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997). He has also worked in British television and theatre, and has worked in radio, both as an actor (on BBC Radio 4) and as a presenter for BBC Radio 1 and Capital Radio. In 1975, he scored his only hit in the UK Singles Chart, "Fool" which reached number 16 in the autumn of that year.
Matthews has also appeared in Grange Hill playng the role of Benny Green's father.
In Matthews's own words from his website: : "I spent six years in the United States Marine Corps; I hold thirteen combat awards and decorations, including two purple hearts. I was the first black Marine in the 1st Marine Division in Viet Nam, to be meritoriously promoted to the rank of sergeant; I served with Kilo Battery, Fourth Battalion, 11th Marines, 1st Marine Division, of that I am very proud."