François Scarborough Clemmons sang his last performance this night. As the semester ends, this professor made it clear that he it was time to retire. After sixty-eight years on this Earth, he just feels that it is time to end his twenty-five years as professor and choirmaster at Middlebury College in Vermont.
Clemmons was born Alabama in 1945 and learned about the joys of singing from his mother, who sang traditional spirituals as she worked around the house. He would sing at school and eventually went on to get his Bachelors at Oberlin College, and his Masters at Carnegie Mellon University.
Clemmons would audition for the Metropolitan Opera Studio where he would spend seven seasons performing many of his favorite roles.
However, Clemmons was known to many Americans for his performance on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. There, he became the first African-American regular. He played Officer Clemmons on the show from 1968 through to 1984.
A different aspect of his life was not mentioned on the show. Clemmons is openly gay, and notes that Fred Rogers “gave me a tremendous about of support privately, but we would not do anything that said I was an openly gay man on television because he didn’t feel and his advisors did not feel that the public was ready to have a gay character on a children’s television program.”
Clemmons spent many a year at Middlebury College performing and teaching there for nearly twenty-five years. He was often known by the names “the divo, the maestro, the reverend, doctor-madam-honey-man, sportin’ life, and even black magic.” He loved to sing, and loved to give hope to everyone through song.
He chose a selection of American Negro Spirituals, popular showtunes, and other musical numbers to delight the students during his final performance.