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Francois Clemmons Celebrates Retirement

Friday, May 10th, Middlebury College artist in Residence Francois Clemmons gives a farewell concert to celebrate his retirement.

An internationally known singer and choir director, he created the Harlem Spiritual Ensemble, won an Emmy for his role as “Sportin’ Life” in Porgy and Bess, and sang with the Metropolitan Opera Studio.

But Clemmons is arguably most famous with children.  For more than two decades he played the role of Officer Clemmons on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.

"Here, I have found contentment. I can barely say it, because I've never been content in my whole life. And all of a sudden I was walking around my house one day and I thought: I just love it here. This is where I belong.”

He spoke with Jane Lindholm about what he might do after retirement:

“Politics is something that I very much want to get involved in… I’m interested in Same-Sex marriages. I’m interested in gun control....I had never felt that I could participate in politics because I am an openly gay man."

They also discussed how is sexuality affected his life and career:

"Fred Rogers and I discussed my coming out and being openly gay and we decided that I would probably have to end my relationship with the show. In the theater and in Opera and music you can be openly gay- nobody cares. And somehow or another, those worlds never crossed or got negative with each other. I could do the children’s televisions stuff with Fred Rogers and then I could be much, much more myself when I was singing my own concerts and doing the Harlem Spiritual Ensemble."

And his distinctive fashion sense:

"I like colors, I like very very colorful outfits and things that the typical male here in Vermont is not going to wear…no Carhartts.  If I got it, I’d put lace all over the top of it you know and I’d have spangles and sparklies, you wouldn’t recognize it as Carhartt.”

Clemmons will stay in Middlebury after his retirement.

VPR 2008 Profile Of Francois Clemmons

Francois Clemmons Still Popular From Mr. Rogers Neighborhood

Francois Clemmons On His Life, The Inauguration & King's Legacy

Francois Clemmons Brings Spirituals To Middlebury

Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
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