Vermont Black History Month

Francois Clemmons won Grammy, was regular on Mr. Rogers

Sang National Anthem at Gov. Phil Scott 2023 inauguration

VDC video

Republished from Vermont Historical Society Black History Database

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, and raised in Youngstown, Ohio, Francois Clemmons found his singing voice at a very early age. Learning spirituals from his mother, he sang in church and at local functions, even directing the choir at the young age of ten.

He pursued music at both Oberlin College and Carnegie Mellon University. He earned a position in the Metropolitan Opera Studio and went on to perform with numerous companies and orchestras including: the New York City Opera, the Los Angeles Civic Opera, the Washington Civic Opera, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony, and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

In 1976 he won a Grammy Award for his recording of “Porgy and Bess.”

Francois Clemmons is probably best known for his protrayal of Officer Clemmons on the PBS childrens’ show Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. His recurring role was one of the firsts for an African American in children’s television. In a ground-breaking 1969 episode he shared a wading pool with Fred Rogers and used Rogers’ towel to dry his feet. At the time, many community pools banned Black people from swimming at the same time as whites.

In 1997 Clemmons moved to Middlebury, Vermont, where he joined the Middlebury College faculty as the Alexander Twilight Artist in Residence and the director of the Martin Luther King Spiritual Choir. A fixture on campus and in the community, he inspired many students personally and professionally.

Though he retired in 2013, Francois Clemmons has embarked on a writing career, publishing his autobiography in 2020 as well children’s books, poetry, musicals, and a volume of spirituals.