Dr. François S. Clemmons was born April 23, 1945 in Birmingham, Alabama and moved with his family to Youngstown, Ohio at an early age. When it was discovered that he had a singing voice of purity and power, he began singing at Church functions and at a nursery school.
His first songs were the Spirituals of pre-Civil War America, which he had heard his mother sing at home while she was working. He branched out to sing for different community groups, and for a while, was even the lead singer of a rock 'n' roll group called the 'Jokers'.
He earned his Bachelor of Music degree at Oberlin College (Ohio) and his Master of Fine Arts at Carnegie-Mellon University (Pennsylvania). During graduation exercises in 1996 at Middlebury College in Vermont, he was given the honorary degree of Doctor of Arts. In 1968 he won the regional Metropolitan Opera Auditions in Pittsburgh, and went on the Cleveland, Ohio where he won a position in the prestigious Metropolitan Opera Studio.
He sang there for seven seasons performing over seventy roles with various companies such as: The New York City Opera, Cincinnati Opera, Los Angeles Civic Light Opera, Opera Ebony, Opera South, Toledo Opera, and Washington Civic Opera.
In addition, he has sung with numerous orchestras including the Cleveland Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Indianapolis Symphony, the Milwaukee Symphony, the Colorado State Orchestra, the Memphis Symphony, the Jackson Symphony, the Jacksonville Symphony, the Florida State Symphony, the Springfield Symphony, the Youngstown Symphony, the Salina Orchestra, and the Hanover Rundfunk Symphony Orchestra.
Dr. Clemmons has shown his versatility by creating and performing the role of the friendly police officer, 'Officer Clemmons' on the Emmy and Peabody Award winning television program, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.
Dr. Clemmons has performed the role of 'Sportin' Life' from George Gershwin's 'Porgy & Bess over 100 times. His recording of the role on London Records with the Cleveland Orchestra under the direction of Maestro Lorin Maazel won a Grammy Award in 1973.
As Founder/Director of the world-famous 'Harlem Spiritual Ensemble, Maestro Clemmons performs regularly all over America, Europe, and Asia, carrying on his vision for preserving, sustaining and commissioning new and traditional arrangements of American Negro Spirituals for future generations. In 1996 Strube Verlag of Munich, Germany published a volume of American Negro Spirituals arranged by Dr. Clemmons entitled: Song For Today. In 1997 He commissioned an arrangement of Spirituals from composer Linda Twine, entitled ‘Changed My Name.’ They are published by Hinshaw Music. In 1999 Dr. Clemmons wrote the introduction to An Index to African American Spirituals for the Solo Voice compiled by Kathleen Abromeit and published by The Greenwood Publishing Group.
Maestro Clemmons premiered his original stage work, 'My Name Is Hayes,' based on the life of America's first Black Classical Artist, Roland Hayes, in 1997. Since then, he has brought his unique vocal gifts throughout America, Europe, and Asia where he has toured extensively, presenting choral workshops, master classes, and special concerts celebrating the holidays and honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. Clemmons is now preparing his autobiography: A Song In My Soul , a children’s story, ButterCup And the Majic Cane, and a volume of Poetry entitled ‘A Place Of My Own’ to be published soon.
In honor of his work with the American Negro Spiritual in lecture demonstrations, recitals, and master classes as well as his teaching at Middlebury College, Dr. Clemmons received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Carnegie-Mellon University in 2004.
He lives and works in Middlebury, Vermont.
He also directs the Martin Luther King Choir Spiritual Ensemble, a group of students, faculty, staff members and members of the community who rehearse during January and present a performance of spirituals and King speeches on the evening of Martin Luther King Day.