DU Special Collections

Oral history interview with François Clemmons

Oral history interview with François Clemmons
Clemmons, François, Spirituals Project (Denver, Colo.) Oral History Collection
Sound Recording, Sound Recording
electronic, digitized other analog
François Clemmons recounts how music, especially spirituals, has played a prominent role throughout his life, from singing in church and school assemblies, to the founding of the Harlem Spiritual Ensemble. He describes that while he was trained in classical and operatic music, the Ensemble, founded in 1984, filled a personal need in his life not addressed by his successful concert career. He discusses his views on the difference between spirituals and gospel music, the concertizing of spirituals, and relates some of his teaching experiences at Middlebury College., François Clemmons was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and moved with his family to Youngstown, Ohio, when he was about five years old. He began singing at church and school functions, and earned his Bachelor of Music degree at Oberlin College, and his Master of Fine Arts at Carnegie-Mellon University. He was given the honorary degree of Doctor of Arts in 1996 at Middlebury College in Vermont. As Twilight Artist-In-Residence, he taught music and directed the College Choir. He has enjoyed a successful concert career, and is known his role of "Officer Clemmons" on the television program, "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood". In 1984 he founded the Harlem Spiritual Ensemble, personally financing its operation while it established itself as a professional group on the concert circuit.