François Clemmons in special MLK Day concert

  • on 20 Jan 2014
  • Guerry Auditorium
francois clemmons

François Clemmons, founder of the Harlem Spiritual Ensemble, will give a Martin Luther King Jr. Day concert at Sewanee at 8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 20, following the community potluck. He will be accompanied by pianist Kate Gridley. A reception in Convocation Hall will follow the concert. Clemmons was formerly artist in residence and director of the Martin Luther King Spiritual Choir at Middlebury College.

Clemmons is a professionally trained operatic tenor who is perhaps best known for the role of Officer Clemmons, a friendly neighborhood policeman, on the children's television show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

Born in Birmingham, Ala., François Clemmons first learned of the joy of song from his mother, who sang traditional spirituals as she worked around the house. After earning his master’s degree at Carnegie Mellon University, Clemmons joined the company of the Metropolitan Opera Studio, playing more than 70 classical and opera roles around the world. He has performed his favorite role, Sportin’ Life in Porgy and Bess, more than 200 times and earned a Grammy award for his 1973 recording of that role with the Cleveland Symphony.

Clemmons formed the Harlem Spiritual Ensemble to showcase the spirituals he first learned as a child. Comprising six voices, piano, and percussion, the Ensemble was dedicated to "preserving, sustaining and commissioning new and traditional arrangements of American Negro Spirituals for future generations." It performed faithful interpretations of this important historical and cultural art form in a modern context.

He joined Middlebury College in 1997 and plans to retire this year as Alexander Twilight Artist in Residence and director of the Martin Luther King Spiritual Choir.

Musician and painter Kate Gridley has lived and painted full time in Middlebury, Vt., since 1991. Gridley trained at the Mannes School of Music in New York for nine years, studying classical piano, theory and composition, before studying privately in college. She also sang in auditioned choirs large and small, from madrigal ensembles, to barbershop quartets, Bach choirs, even a three-hundred-voice choir with the NY Philharmonic Orchestra. In addition to founding the Allegro Chorus in Middlebury, Gridley has accompanied on piano numerous singers, stage productions and local school events for the past 15 years.